Grade:  C-
Entire family:  No
2018, 72 min., Color
Documentary
Giant Interactive
Not rated (would be G)
Aspect ratio:  2.40:1 widescreen
Featured audio:  Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
Trailer
Amazon link

After I watched this documentary about bridge (the card game, not London or any other feat of engineering), I was surprised to see that the runtime was only 72 minutes. It seemed much longer . . . and not just because I know nothing about bridge. It seemed longer because this documentary didn’t inspire me to care any more about bridge than I do now.

And there was certainly potential. When you get a group of four 20- and 30-somethings who are being coached by bridge trainers (who knew there was such a thing?), and those four people compete in tournaments where the opponent’s average age is 73, there’s potential here for interest.

But The Kids Table feels superficial because it doesn’t really answer any of the questions that arise along the way. Like, how do the old people really feel about them intruding in their private world of bridge? We get a few responses, but not nearly enough, and the responses we get aren’t personal enough.

What made each of these people want to learn bridge? Were they recruited? What do their friends or families or significant others think about them spending so much time on an old people’s card game? While we get some solo interviews with each of the young people, there’s not much in the way of answers or depth. Out of curiosity I Googled one of them and learned that Stefanie Woodburn (who admits she’s not super hot on bridge but, once involved, can be super competitive) is a member of Mensa and a summa cum laude graduate from NYU. She’s an actress who’s been featured in TV movies and starred as Mulan in Once Upon a Time: The Rock Opera. She also was one of the first graduates of Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s IMAGINE IMPACT class, and she created the first short film funded through video streaming games. Fascinating, right?

But we don’t get much information about her or the others in this documentary, which limits the on-camera interviews to reality-show style questions about their feelings on what we just saw onscreen. Frankly, a documentary like this would have worked so much better if each of the principle young players had their own “Olympic moment” profiles that make us care about them as they play. Does it put a strain on their social lives or family life? Does it compete with their other ambitions? Has learning bridge been a struggle that they continue because of x, y, or z? Without strong back stories there aren’t strong characters, and that especially holds true for this film by Stephen Helstad and Edo Benda. We simply don’t get enough personal information about the four novice players and their two trainers for us to care about them. We’re just flies on the wall as we watch Woodburn, Paul Stanko, Monique Thomas, Edd Benda, Brian Reynolds, and Samantha MacDouglas go from match to match.

In choosing to focus only on competitions that can run 12 hours long, Helstad and Benda are bound by the same insistent (boring?) quietness that characterizes these bridge arenas, and that’s about as exciting as being dragged along to one of these matches by a friend. You sit and you watch and you watch, though you don’t really know what you’re watching.

Oh, the directors try to explain the game as simply as they can, but as you’re still thinking huh? 10 minutes later you almost wonder what the point of the brief lesson was when one of the featured novice players says that it’s an extremely complicated game that takes hours and hours to learn. Well, unless you’re MacDouglas, who says on her website that you can learn bridge in 20 minutes if you download her free pamphlet. Maybe people who know bridge will find this documentary interesting, but if you’re not already a part of this world, the directors don’t really make it enticing or accessible enough for a general audience.

The Kids Table was “presented in association with the ACBL Educational Foundation,” and it makes sense that the American Contract Bridge League might get involved. This film is mostly of value for current players who might see it and realize, Hey, we’d better reach out to more young people the way that blues musicians did a generation ago, or else this card game that was once the second most popular pastime in America after baseball is going to become as extinct as the Passenger Pigeon. Or that other card game my Milwaukee relatives used to play that I could never understand: Sheepshead.