Pucker Up

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 03/22/05 13:34:47

"Okay now, stop. Just, please, stop the whistling already!"
3 stars (Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2005 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: I knew this would happen. Spellbound was a great little documentary about an odd corner of humanity - the North American spelling bee championships - and it became a massive success. Following a sample of the competition entrants from practicing at home to the competition proper, to the final showdown, the tension was palpable and the end result as dramatic as any film of the year. But watching it, I just knew it was going to be the start of something awful. That awful thing would be the Spellbound-styled cookie-cutter imitators. Take a bow, Pucker Up.

Pucker Up follows a group of whistlers as they prepare for the Louisburg North Carolina, International Whistling Convention and competition. Yes, you heard right, it's a whistling competition and the stakes are higher than Tommy Chong and Woody Harrelson backstage at a Grateful Dead show.

Only, not really. There's a trophy, and the acclaim of the 60 or so people who have shown up, and I guess people got a chance to be in a movie, which is pretty cool when you think about it. But that's all.

Who will take the gold... colored trophy? Will it be the bow tie-wearing executive from the Carlyle Group, or will it be the multiple title-winning favorite? Can the unknown kid from Denmark steal the title away from America, or will the oddball, baseball cap-wearing, not long for this world veteran finally get into the good stuff?

Director/producer/editor Kate Harris has all the ingredients here to make a compelling documentary, and to her credit she has, as you'd expect from a documentarian who has won an Emmy and 25 international awards over her 15 years in the business. Pucker Up is cute, it's polished, it's totally watchable, but it's also a few things that it shouldn't be. Firstly, it's annoying. I know there are people out there who love the whistling, and they want to hear as much of it as possible in a film about that hobby, but as a guy who wouldn't know a great whistle from a brick to the side of the head, it wasn't long into the film that I wanted the sound turned down. Sure, what you hear sometimes amazes you, especially when the occasional puccador lets fly with a ship foghorn or a complex birdcall, but is that enough to hang an 80-minute film on?

Ultimately, Pucker Up is a sports documentary. A very weird sports documentary, granted, but it's still a sports doco, and anyone who is a sports fan will tell you that every single event in the world has a storyline to it. As the early losers fall by the wayside, you become invested in those left, picking your favorite and watching intently as their fortunes shift. It could be a baseball game or game of canasta, but the end result is always the same - it's drama. what made Spellbound incredible was that it got deep into the hearts of the audience and the minds of the competitors, exploring themes as complex as when does honest competition turn into child abuse, and at what point does a child deprived of kid-time lose all touch with thier inner child?

Pucker Up, on the other hand, is about a group of guys who like to whistle.

It's not a bad documentary at all, but it isn't one that marks the documentary landscape with an impact crater either. A&E, here we come.

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