×
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

  • Adam Driver appears in The Report

    Amazon’s ‘The Report’ Gets U.K. Theatrical Release Ahead of Streaming Launch

    Amazon Studio’s “The Report” will be released theatrically in the U.K. three weeks before it lands on the Prime Video streaming service. The Scott Z. Burns film tells the story of Daniel J. Jones, a U.S. Senate staffer who worked to reveal that truth about an “enhanced interrogation” program run by the CIA in the [...]

  • Elton John performing at Earls Court,

    Elton John Has a Message for Struggling LGBTQ Youth: 'Be Proud of Who You Are'

    Elton John isn’t at a loss for words when asked if he has a message for young LGBTQ people who are struggling with their sexuality or gender identity. In an exclusive interview with Variety at last month’s Cannes Film Festival, just hours before the world premiere of his long-in-the-works biopic “Rocketman,” John spoke candidly about the [...]

  • Salma Hayek Owen Wilson Bliss

    Salma Hayek, Owen Wilson to Star in Amazon's Sci-Fi Drama 'Bliss'

    Salma Hayek and Owen Wilson have signed on to star in Amazon’s science-fiction drama “Bliss,” with Mike Cahill directing from his own script. Wilson portrays a recently divorced man whose life is falling apart when he meets Hayek’s character, a woman who lives on the streets and is convinced that the polluted, broken world around [...]

  • Donald Glover Beyonce

    Beyoncé and Donald Glover Harmonize in 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight' Ad Preview

    Anyone who’s longed to hear Beyoncé and Donald Glover harmonizing got just enough to further whet the appetite in a first snippet of their version of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” that’s included in a new commercial for Disney’s upcoming “Lion King” remake. The TV spot lasts just 30 seconds, hardly time at all [...]

  • Pride Allies

    The Hollywood Allies Who Helped Protect, Advance the LGBTQ Community This Year

    Strong and proud as it is, the LGBTQ community’s fight for equality needs allies — from loving and accepting families to galvanized colleagues and corporations to the movie star you’ve never met calling for boycotts of a homophobic nation-state. Several of those queer supporters in Hollywood and music used the megaphones of social media, public [...]

  • 'Easy A' Spinoff in the Works

    'Easy A' Spinoff in the Works From Original Screenwriter (EXCLUSIVE)

    Nearly a decade after the success of “Easy A,” a spinoff of the coming-of-age comedy is in the works. Sources tell Variety that Screen Gems has appointed Bert Royal, who penned the first script, to write and direct the upcoming movie. Insiders stress that the film is still in early development, as Royal is still [...]

  • Screen writer Beau WillimonMary Queen of

    Beau Willimon Running Unopposed for Re-Election as President of Writers Guild East

    Beau Willimon, the playwright and showrunner who launched Netflix’s “House of Cards,” is running unopposed for re-election to a two-year term as president of the Writers Guild of America East. Willimon also ran unopposed in 2017 to succeed Michael Winship. The WGA East announced a total of 24 candidates Thursday for its top officer posts [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content