×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Thank You for Playing’

An emotional portrait of a family tragedy and a slippery inquiry into the therapeutic properties of making art.

With:
Ryan Green, Amy Green, Josh Larson.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4190906/

Ryan and Amy Green designed their video game “That Dragon, Cancer” with a highly unusual purpose in mind: not to amuse or entertain, but rather to capture and demystify what it’s like to care for a terminally ill child. That experience is accessed on an even more intimate level in David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall’s “Thank You for Playing,” a documentary that works as both an emotional portrait of a slow-motion family tragedy and a slippery inquiry into the therapeutic properties of making art. Raising, but not always answering, difficult questions about the advisability of coping with grief through the creative process, this alternately poignant and perplexing film is presently in limited theatrical release, and is set to air on PBS’ “POV” series later this year.

One would have to play it to be sure, but based purely on the abundant footage we see here, “That Dragon, Cancer” (which was released earlier this year) would seem to enrich the field of narrative and thematic possibilities available to video-game artists. It offers a vivid, 3D-rendered distillation of various episodes we see the Greens going through with their youngest son, Joel, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 1. A particular puzzle in the game might require you, the player, to rock Joel to sleep, or to push him in a wagon around a hospital race course. But its primary effect seems to be one of immersion and exploration rather than problem solving. In following the characters through every phase of their ordeal, swe are invited to partake directly of the anguish that Ryan Green feels when his on-screen avatar murmurs, “I hate that he’s sick … I just want him to feel better.”

In between scenes of the couple spending time at home with Joel and their other children, “Thank You for Playing” offers a compelling look behind the scenes of the game’s creation (on which the Greens partnered with the programmer Josh Larson). The intensely personal nature of the enterprise is made all the more painfully clear by the sight of Ryan recording his own dialogue, or using audio snippets of Joel’s laughter (but tellingly, not his crying). At one point, echoing a sentiment that will be shared by many in the audience, the film raises the question of whether the Greens are dealing with their impossible situation or exploiting it. On a certain level, the documentary is meant to vindicate the Greens of that charge (which Ryan greets with an unexpectedly creative display of indignation), and to let them to cast their motives in the most thoughtful possible light.

It’s hard to know how to feel about the scenes shot at a gamers convention where Ryan shows off an early version of “That, Dragon Cancer”; the shots of players silently wiping away tears strikes a self-congratulatory note, but they also naturally invite our empathy — and further stoke our curiosity about the game itself. While the movie runs a brisk 80 minutes, its contextual lapses here and there are readily apparent: One yearns to learn more about the Green family’s strong Christian faith, which is referenced but not deeply explored in a few scenes, and also to hear more from Amy — who, not being the primary creative force behind the game, at times feels sidelined from the proceedings. Yet even the flaws of “Thank You for Playing” have the effect of underscoring its humanity; the movie may immortalize a creative endeavor, but it never loses sight of the fact that it’s also honoring a life.

Film Review: ‘Thank You for Playing’

Reviewed online, New Orleans, March 19, 2016. (In 2015 Intl. Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam; Tribeca, Hot Docs film festivals.) Running time: 80 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) A FilmBuff release of a Kinematic Films presentation, in association with the Independent Television Servicer playin. (International sales: Cinephil, Tel Aviv.) Produced by David Osit, Malika Zouhali-Worrall. Executive producers, Sally Jo Fifer, Simon Kilmurry.

Crew: Directed, edited by David Osit, Malika Zouhali-Worrall. Camera (color, widescreen), Osit; music, Osit; sound, Zouhali-Worrall, Osit; supervising sound editors, Tom Efinger, Jeff Seelye, Abigail Savage; sound designer, Savage; re-recording mixer, Efinger; animation, Ryan Cousins, Ryan Green, Josh Larson; graphic design, Alex Meillier.

With: Ryan Green, Amy Green, Josh Larson.

More Film

  • Singapore Actor Aloysius Pang, 28, Dies

    Singaporean Actor Aloysius Pang, 28, Dies While on Military Service

    Singaporean actor Aloysius Pang died Wednesday of injuries sustained while on military training in New Zealand. He was 28. Pang was best known for his appearance in movies “Young & Fabulous” and “Timeless Love.” He also had a string of credits in Singapore TV series. More Reviews Concert Review: Lady Gaga Outdoes Her Other Vegas [...]

  • Alibaba Lends $100 Million to Huayi

    Alibaba Lends $100 Million to Huayi Bros. in Film Investment Expansion

    Alibaba Pictures Group, the film business arm of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, has struck a strategic cooperation deal with leading film studio Huayi Bros. The deal includes a $103 million (RMB700 million) loan to Huayi. Alibaba Pictures said the agreement was part of its recently announced strategy to be involved in major movies aimed for [...]

  • Netflix Buys Taiwan Black Comedy 'Dear

    Netflix Buys Taiwan Black Comedy 'Dear Ex'

    Netflix has added to its roster of Mandarin-language content with the acquisition of rights to Taiwanese dark comedy “Dear Ex.” The award-winning film will play out from Feb. 1. The story involves a recently bereaved widow and a gay man fighting over a dead man’s inheritance, with the woman’s teenage son caught in the middle. [...]

  • Audrey Wells

    Film News Roundup: Audrey Wells Scholarships Launched by UCLA, China's Pearl Studio

    In today’s film news roundup, Pearl Studio and UCLA start a “Say Yes!” scholarship in memory of Audrey Well; Gina Lollobrigida and Claudia Cardinale are honored; and the “General Magic” documentary gets bought. SCHOLARSHIPS UNVEILED More Reviews Concert Review: Lady Gaga Outdoes Her Other Vegas Show With Masterful 'Jazz & Piano' TV Review: 'Russian Doll' [...]

  • Honey Boy Knock Down the House

    Sundance Hot Titles List: 13 Buzzy Films That Have Buyers Talking

    There’s a good reason that much of Hollywood braves the thin mountain air each year to make the trek to the Sundance Film Festival, and it’s not to check out the nearby ski slopes. The annual launch of the indie film gathering brings with it the possibility of discovering the next big thing in moviemaking. [...]

  • (L to R) VIGGO MORTENSEN and

    Will Oscar Nominations Give This Year's Contenders a Box Office Boost?

    With nominees like “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “A Star Is Born,” the 2018 class of movies proved the Oscars don’t need a popular films category to recognize movies that also made bank in theaters. But now that the academy has selected this year’s crop of awards hopefuls, is there any green left to squeeze [...]

  • A24 Buys Sequel to Tilda Swinton's

    Sundance: A24 Buys Sequel to Tilda Swinton's Romance-Drama 'The Souvenir'

    A24 has bought the North American rights to Tilda Swinton’s romance-drama “The Souvenir – Part 2,” closing the deal on the eve of the Sundance Film Festival. “The Souvenir” is set to make its world premiere at Sundance on Jan. 27, followed by playing in the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival in February. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content