Well, I’ve seen Marshall Curry‘s Racing Dreams (i.e., having been urged to do so by L.A. Times columnist Scott Feinberg) and I have to be honest and say that despite it being a well-crafted portrayal of a world I didn’t know (and have never wanted to know), it alienated and creeped me out because of the NASCAR culture and lifestyle issues it brings to the fore.
Racing Dreams director Marshall Curry (second from right), exec producers Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (left), Dany Garcia (left of Curry), and Bristol Baughan (right of Curry), as well the subjects of the doc (l. to .r) — Annabeth Barnes, Brandon Warren, Josh Hobson. Taken outside Tribeca Film Festival screening on Saturday.
Curry shoots and cuts like a pro and knows how to charm and engage and make it all come together within the confines of the material, but if you see NASCAR world as a ghastly cultural prison, as I and Will Ferrell certainly do, then it’s hard not to see Racing Dreams as a mixed-bag thing, at best.
It’s about three nice kids — Annabeth Barnes, Josh Hobson, Brandon Warren — going through a year of NASCAR Little League, and the various issues and challenges they and their parents are confronted with along the way. It’s mainly about positive and dedicated parenting and the teaching of solid values. I admired and identified with the parents (and in one instance a grandfather and grandmother) doing everything they can to help their kids make it in a very tough realm, and within these limits Racing Dreams is fine, I suppose, as a junior-sized Hoop Dreams on wheels. It’s well-cut, well-ordered, and stirring as far as it goes.
But I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the kids all through it. Here, I thought to myself, are three good drivers with skill and desire but doomed to live in NASCAR world for the rest of their lives. They’re in a cultural Devil’s Island and they don’t even know it, and they probably never will.
I trust I’m not the only urban-residing blue-state guy who despises the whole blue-collar NASCAR thing — muscle cars, all-over machismo, burning oil like there’s no tomorrow and certainly no global warming, a culture that loves its barbecued ribs and cans of beer and chili with ketchup and is totally about fortifying its own bullshit while keeping the outside world out, all the guys wearing Van Dykes and Fu-Manchu moustaches and everyone just enjoyin’ the noise and the exhaust fumes and the fast drivin’ and occasional wipeouts and rollovers and the everybody puttin’ on the sunscreen in the bleachers….hell, man… yeehawww!
Indiewire reported yesterday that Racing Dreams got a “five minute standing ovation at the end” and that “execs from Fox Searchlight, Magnolia, and Sheila Nevins from HBO were all in the audience.” It might play in shitkicker country but I don’t see it working out all that well in blue territory because it’s just too damn strange and alienating. Where’s the upside in succeeding in a world like this? At the end of the day it’s still a culture that pours blobs of ketchup into bowls of chili. If by clapping my hands three times I could eradicate NASCAR and the NASCAR muscle-car mentality, I would clap my hands three times.
Feinberg told me it’s “definitely gonna be nominated for the Best Feature Documentary Oscar and could well win.” Well, I don’t think it’s a shoo-in at all. I know for certain I will never sit through it again.