A late addition to the recently fashionable cycle of sequin-strewn docus about dance competitions featuring driven kids and pushy parents, Brit-made “Jig” takes a whirl through the realm of Irish dancing, that stompy, stiff-armed prancing about that Riverdance made famous. Although there is some insightful observational work, and the dancing itself is aces, pic feels overcrowded with characters. Helmer Sue Bourne skillfully handles the challenging logistics, no surprise given she’s made something of a specialty out of large-ensemble docus for TV, but the result feels oddly flat and underwhelming. Nevertheless, this likable pic should play well to specialty auds.
Part of pic’s core problem is that it focuses on not just one competition and the contestants therein like, say, spelling-bee docu “Spellbound,” but on several parallel contests between dancers of different ages, all competing at the 2010 World Irish Dancing Championships in Glasgow. Consequently, there are too many personal stories and themes (rivalry, triumph over adversity, the nobility of sportsmanlike determination … ) slugging it out here.
Ample crosscutting — beautifully handled, all things considered, by editor Colin Monie — compares and contrasts key players in different meets. Protags include a trio of young women (Simona Mauriello, Claire Greaney, and Suzanne Coyle) chasing the cup in the Ladies 19-21 competish; two extremely different girls (elfin Irish lass Brogan McKay, and set-jawed Yank tyke Julia O’Rourke) both after the Girls 10-11 trophy; and two lone boys (natural talent 10-year-old John Whitehurst, and American-born 16-year-old Joe Bitter) who both train with coach and former champ John Carey. As if that weren’t enough, also in the mix are a group from Moscow with visa problems, and an adopted Indonesian teen (Sandun Verschoor) who was raised in the Netherlands by white parents.
There are plenty of tiaras on show but fewer tantrums than one might expect from the disciplined kids. (The parents and coaches, however, are rather less well behaved.) The result is that the pic is a little lower on drama than it ought to be, a problem compounded by the tension-sapping coverage of the interminable reading of judges’ scores at the end. Meanwhile, with so many bases to cover, Bourne barely has time to touch on potentially more interesting issues such as why this so very intrinsically Irish form of dance should have such appeal across different cultures, or how the boys handle the homophobic bullying they encounter at school.
Relying on use of a second unit pays dividends at the end by allowing auds to see rivals waiting to learn their marks. Quirky touches here and there, and occasional use of slow-motion, adds spice to Joe Russell’s consistently pro lensing. Sound design is a standout.