Smartly structured, crisply lensed docu “Pop Star on Ice” is a fascinating portrait of outspoken Olympian and three-time U.S. figure skating national champion Johnny Weir. Smoothly incorporating archival footage, debuting directors David Barba and James Pellerito trace Weir’s emergence on the scene at the relatively late age of 12, his long relationship with coach Priscilla Hill, penchant for furs and fashion, and recent competition difficulties. Featuring plenty of dazzling skating — from Weir and chief rival Evan Lysacek — the pic is prime fest fare that could stir up biz on the cinematheque circuit before segueing to broadcast.
Sundance Channel not only provided finishing funds for the docu (which was shot over two years on three continents), but also commissioned an eight-episode series from the helmers. Taking up where the docu ends, the series will follow Weir as he tries to make the 2010 Olympic team.
The quick-witted, irrepressibly provocative Weir (whose sparkling costumes and dying-swan choreography inspired the character Jon Heder plays in “Blades of Glory”) may be the ideal docu subject. As fashion savant Carson Kressley notes, “He lets his personality out.” Indeed, Weir frequently manifests the talk-before-you-think openness that makes him a controversial favorite at press conferences.
However, there’s one subject he’s not addressing. Despite openly gay sports commentator Mark Lund’s snide remark, “I can’t wrap my head around how overly out he is without saying he’s out,” Weir maintains, “What I do in my bedroom is personal. I don’t think anyone needs to know if I’m sleeping with Sienna Miller or Orlando Bloom.”
The pic’s two powerful in-your-face pre-title sequences perfectly epitomize the contrast between Weir’s flamboyant persona and his natural grace on ice. But as the rest of the docu elaborates, it takes more than talent to make a champion.
Weir’s love for Russia provides an ongoing motif. His habit of wearing — and being photographed in — retro Soviet CCCP sweatshirts rather than team USA duds at the Torino Olympics angered many U.S. supporters.
With Weir providing voiceover narration, clever graphics illustrate the October-March timeline of invitational and competitive events that figure skaters of Weir’s caliber train for. Another graphic device, imaginary newspaper “the Daily Weir,” pithily reports competition results.
After his less-than-stellar showing in the 2006 Torino games, Weir pins his hopes on Vancouver in 2010. But disastrous 2006 and 2007 seasons leave him realizing changes are necessary.
Well-paced editing by multihyphenates Barba and Pellerito neatly segues between competitions, training sessions and Weir’s off-ice hijinks with best buddy Paris Childers. Versatile score by Giovanni Spinelli also keeps things moving.
Weir proves as natural a screen presence as he is a skater. Although Coach Hill turns giddy when the camera moves to her, she’s articulate about their work together and a passionate believer in his ability. The Weir family p.o.v. is left to his mother Patti.