You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

SXSW Review: ‘The Short Game’

Finding the most entertaining angle on one of the world’s dullest sports, “The Short Game” has built-in word-of-mouth that should help it break out of the docu sandtrap and roll down the fairway. The eight golf champs featured in this “Spellbound”-style saga are among the most competitive on the planet. They practice constantly, run circles around Tiger Woods’ records, have won hundreds of trophies — and on the rare occasion when they miss a shot, you just want to pinch their cheeks. That’s because they’re all 7 years old and set to compete in the World Championships of Junior Golf.

Every time the mini golfers in Josh Greenbaum’s feature debut open their mouths, these inadvertently hilarious kids say the darndest things, reminding us they’re too young to remember life before the invention of Wii Sports — and too focused on the real game to have fun doing much of anything else. But these eight kids aren’t just prodigies; they’re entertaining characters in their own right, some of whom just might wind up on the pro tour in a decade or so.

Allan Kournikova, kid brother of tennis star Anna, collects trophies the way children before him hoarded baseball cards and Beanie Babies. “They’re just so shiny,” he beams. “And they’re good art.” As he fumbles with “the ancient medal” his big sis won in the Olympics, Allan doesn’t seem very coordinated. But on the green, he can control the ball better than anyone his age, returning this year to defend his Junior Golf title. Personality-wise, he’s the right subject to start with, spouting weird words to live by like a young Donald Trump.

If Kournikova sounds spoiled, just wait’ll you meet Augustin Valery, the androgynous-looking grandson of French poet Paul Valery. Dressed like a character out of a Wes Anderson movie, the kid could probably stand to experience a crushing defeat to toughen up his character. Other contestants come from as far as South Africa and the Philippines, as well as from less privileged corners of America, and they represent a good balance of girls and boys. Among them, Amari Avery’s middle-class black-and-Asian background feeds her dreams of following in Woods’ footsteps (and earns her the nickname “Tigress”).

Part of the kids’ charm comes from the unfiltered way they seem to speak their minds oncamera, though it’s clear Greenbaum is giving his young subjects a fair amount of direction, as are their parents — or “daddy caddies,” as the most vocal among them are called. The choicest moments feel the most unrehearsed, as when overachiever Alexa Pano compares a huge, triangle-shaped award to a slice of pineapple and sausage pizza — or, better, when she and Kournikova blush while talking about their budding relationship. Less convincing, though effective all the same, are moments in which the crew’s presence clearly influences the result, like the scene where Alexa practices through a heavy rainstorm, cameras rolling the whole time.

With 14 different lensers credited, the film clearly involved formidable logistics in order to track these kids in the months leading up to the competition at the tony Pinehurst, N.C., Country Club — a task that meant dispatching crews to five different countries, not counting wherever they shot supplemental interviews with old pros like Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. That enormous effort pays off, yielding more than enough footage to capture the kids’ adorable personalities before they all converge on Pinehurst as rivals.

The final stretch is standard sports-movie stuff, though editor Billy McMillin makes it easy to follow the progress (assisted by voiceover from an eager announcer) while maintaining tension, thanks to how cleanly the pic establishes each of the kids’ personal stakes. Perhaps the most surprising thing about “The Short Game” is discovering how contagious their commitment is. And with a sport like golf, those that don’t win needn’t worry. They have another 70 or so years to keep trying.

The Short Game


Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival, March 11, 2013. Running time: 99 MIN.

A Delirio Films presentation produced in association with Passion Pictures. (International sales: Submarine Entertainment, New York.) Produced by Rafael Marmor, Christopher Leggett, Josh Greenbaum. Executive producers, Timm Oberwelland, John Battsek, David Frankel.

Directed by Josh Greenbaum. Camera (color, HD), John Aguirre, Benoit Chamaillard, Michael Dwyer, Jim Fabio, Philipp Friesenbichler, James Hammond, Wolfgang Held, Nick Higgins, Andrew Lang, Jose Tony Molina, Gavin Northover, Chase Rees, Jean Bernard Rutagarama, Jay Visit; editor, Billy McMillin; music, Mark Mothersbaugh; sound, Ian Boyd, Thomas Doolittle, Christopher Howland, Scott Johnson, Marcus Ricaud, Frank Scibella, Rob Smith, Christopher Trueman; supervising sound editor, Dror Mohar; re-recording mixer, Tim Hoogenakker; visual effects, PIC Agency.

With: Amari Avery, Alexa Pano, Allan Kournikova, Sky Sudberry, Zamokuhle Nxasana, Augustin Valery, Jed Dy, Yang Kuan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Annika Sorenstam, Juan “Chi-Chi” Rodriguez.

(English, Chinese, French dialogue)

SXSW Review: 'The Short Game'

More Film

  • 'Captain Marvel' Lands Day-and-Date China Release

    'Captain Marvel' Lands Day-and-Date China Release

    Marvel Studios’ hotly anticipated blockbuster “Captain Marvel” will hit Chinese theaters on the same day as it debuts in North America. The Brie Larson-starring picture will release on March 8, 2019, which is also International Women’s Day. Written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the film tells the story of Carol Danvers, a former fighter [...]

  • Peter Rabbit trailer

    Australia Box Office Recovers, Grows 3.8% in 2018

    Gross theatrical box office in Australia grew by 3.6% in 2018, to $890 million (A$1.25 billion). The score was propelled by a rebound in the performance of the top local films. Data from the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia published Tuesday showed aggregate cinema revenues recovering after a dip in 2017. While the 2018 [...]

  • Why Megan Mullally Won't Talk Politics

    Q&A: Why Megan Mullally Won't Talk Politics While Hosting the SAG Awards

    Megan Mullally is funny. The “Will & Grace” star can also sing and dance. While she’s not picking up the Oscar hosting gig after the Kevin Hart fiasco, Mullally will take center stage on Sunday, Jan. 27 when she makes her debut as the host of the 25th annual SAG Awards. Variety caught up with [...]

  • Glass trailer

    'Glass': Five Box Office Takeaways From M. Night Shyamalan's Thriller

    With his fifth No. 1 box office opening, M. Night Shyamalan has plenty to celebrate. “Glass,” the conclusion to a trilogy that consists of the 2000 cult hit “Unbreakable” and 2016’s box office sensation “Split,” topped the box office last weekend — though its win comes with a few caveats. James McAvoy reprised his role [...]

  • Berlin: Patra Spanou Picks Up Panorama

    Berlin: Patra Spanou Picks Up Panorama Title 'Family Members' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Patra Spanou has picked up world sales rights to “Los miembros de la familia” (Family Members), which will world premiere in the Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama section. Variety has been given an exclusive first look of the film’s trailer. The film is the second feature from writer/director Mateo Bendesky, and is produced by Agustina Costa [...]

  • Great Point Media, The Development Partnership

    Great Point Media, Development Partnership Join Forces on Slate of Movies

    Great Point Media and The Development Partnership, the development and production arm of the talent agency the Artists Partnership, are joining forces to develop, package, and co-produce multiple films, kicking off with three projects, including “Chasing Agent Freegard,” starring James Norton (“War & Peace”). “Chasing Agent Freegard,” which is being produced by “Captain Phillips” co-producer [...]

  • Berlin: FiGa Acquires ‘Landless,’ Drops ‘Hormigas’

    Berlin: FiGa Acquires ‘Landless,’ Drops ‘Hormigas’ Trailer (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sandro Fiorin’s Miami-based FiGa Films, a leading sales agent on the independent Latin American scene, has announced the acquisition of Brazilian doc “Landless,” and released a trailer for the Costa Rican-Spanish drama “El despertar de las hormigas.” Both features will play at this year’s Berlinale Forum and come from young Latin American filmmakers making their [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content