Yes, I’m giving a negative review to an upbeat documentary about that little 5-year-old whose Make-A-Wish dream was to be Batman for a day, resulting in one of the feel-good stories of 2013.
Stick with me please.
Like just about everyone who followed the story of how Miles Scott’s simple wish exploded into a social media phenomenon that galvanized the city of San Francisco, turned into a huge event and drew cheers from thousands of strangers, myriad celebrities and even the president, I thought it was just the coolest thing. But the deeper we go into Dana Nachman’s unquestioning, feature-length cheerleading film, the more uncomfortable I felt about the reaction of one person to that magical and overwhelming day.
Here’s the story if you don’t know it: In remission from leukemia, an amazing, imaginative, sweet little boy named Miles was living with his wonderful, strong and caring parents in a small farm town in Northern California when he expressed the wish to become his hero, Batman.
The indefatigable head of the Greater Bay Area chapter of Make-A-Wish springs into action, and soon we’re meeting a likable cast of real-life volunteers who donated their time, efforts and talents to make Miles’ dream come true.
Eric Johnston, an acrobat and inventor, befriends Miles, teaches him tumbles and stunts, and even dons a costume on the big day so he can be Batman, and Miles can be Batkid. Apple offers the services of a “crisis team.” The famed composer Hans Zimmer writes a theme just for Batkid. The San Francisco Opera provides costumes.
When Make-A-Wish puts out a call for volunteers, hoping to get about 250 people to show up for a crowd scene, literally thousands pledge to be there — including hundreds who fly in just to be a part of Batkid’s big day.
The mayor, the police chief, the mascot for the San Francisco Giants, dozens of cops volunteering to work overtime for no pay — everyone wants to help out. In interviews recalling the big day, the adults are giddy and, yes, a bit self-congratulatory at times, but why not? This was one of those rare stories where we all got to feel good about humankind, and how most people really are noble at heart.
Problem is, when the big day arrives, from the get-go it appears as if Miles is overwhelmed by the sheer hugeness of it all, from the Lamborghini with the police escort to elaborate staged adventures involving a damsel in distress tied to a cable car track to catching the Riddler robbing a bank to rescuing the Giants mascot from the clutches of the Penguin, to the mayor handing him the key to the city in front of a cheering throng. What 5-year-old wants the key to the city, or even understands why a man in a suit is giving him a giant key to a city where he doesn’t live?
Miles’ adorable little Batman outfit looks hot and uncomfortable. The mask keeps slipping down over his eyes. After lunch, about midway through the adventure, Miles says he’d just like to go home, but after his father agrees to ride in the Batmobile with him and the adults cheer him on, Miles agrees to keep on going. It feels more and more like we’re watching an awful lot of unmistakably well-intentioned grown-ups creating an adult’s idea of a perfect day for a 5-year-old child — who doesn’t quite understand why all these people are waving signs and applauding wildly and guiding him through the next episode involving a costumed arch-enemy.
Says Eric Johnston: “It [was] like we were doing a stage production where the lead character doesn’t know he’s in it, he’s never [rehearsed] and he’s 5.”
Miles’ mother notes, “Obviously, [Miles] had fun, but I don’t think he really got it.”
There ARE moments when the little guy is clearly having a great time — but he actually seems happiest the day before the big event, where local acrobats have dressed as superheroes, and Miles gets to tumble and soar and even swing on a trapeze. One gets the feeling he would have been thrilled with that adventure and ready to call it a day and go back to his life.