Grieving father Ryan Green may be aware that he’s performing for the cameras in the moving documentary/character study Thank You for Playing, but his self-conscious behavior never cancels out his apparent sincerity.
That’s a major credit to co-directors David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall. Green, an independent video game designer who co-created (with his wife, Amy) the autobiographical game That Dragon, Cancer to document the loss of his infant son Joel, exhaustively filmed himself and his family throughout Joel’s chemotherapy treatments. Osit and Zouhali-Worrall subtly focus on the Greens’ raw footage and augment their own so that Ryan never looks like he’s putting on a show.
He appears especially candid when he defensively kisses, tickles, and embraces Joel, as if he were protecting his son from Osit, Zouhali-Worrall, and cancer, too. These brief moments of anxiety train us to watch Ryan’s unconscious physical reactions. We don’t just listen to him promote That Dragon, Cancer at a video-game conference, but also see him avoid eye contact with inquiring members of the press when he praises himself for exploring “the potential of what games can be.”
Ryan’s intelligence is apparent in scenes where he asks himself why he turned his private mourning into an interactive experience. But when he tearfully admits “I’m so scared I’m going to forget Joel,” we’re seeing Ryan blink rapidly, lower his head, and avoid the camera’s penetrating gaze. Thank You for Playing transforms a father’s confession into a revealing work of art.
Thank You For Playing
Directed by David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall
Opens March 18, Made in NY Media Center by IFP