Review by Sean Boelman
The Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo brought with it a renewed interest in movies about extreme sports athletes, and Super Frenchie is the latest attempt to tap into that audience. The film has all the makings of a compelling story, but filmmaker Chase Ogden’s approach is a bit too conventional and shallow for it to resonate.
The movie follows BASE jumper Matthias Giraud as his dangerous passion begins to be fundamentally at odds with his obligations to his family. Copying from the book of Free Solo, this film is presented in a way that makes it much less about BASE jumping and more about the person who does it, with an emphasis on the portions of his story that are universally resonant.
Since the movie is under an hour and twenty minutes in length, it feels as if everything in the story is being rushed. There is enough of a story here to be explored over the course of a documentary that is ten to twenty minutes longer. As is, it feels like Ogden included the bare minimum level of detail to make the film function.
If Ogden does do one thing very well, it is capturing Giraud’s personality. Through interviews and footage of him jumping, Giraud’s charm really shines through. Admittedly, his arc of being torn between what he wants and what he needs is a common one and certain things that happen to it make it feel even more conventional.
However, one of the things that Ogden fails to do is raise the stakes effectively. Interviews with Giraud’s family make it clear what he has to lose, but the movie doesn’t stress how he is going to lose it. Even when tragedy strikes, it feels like just another obstacle for Giraud to overcome, not a looming sense of danger.
A lot of the emotional beats in the film also feel like they are aiming for low-hanging fruit. Of course the audience is going to sympathize with the pleas of a mother asking for the father of her child to stop putting himself at risk, but the movie doesn’t give us enough a reason to connect with the story beyond these basic appeals to our humanity.
Since the film’s focus is more on the family-driven side of this story, there aren’t as many scenes of Giraud jumping as one would expect to see. However, when they are shown, these clips aren’t particularly exhilarating due to basic editing. At least the mountainous backgrounds are gorgeous to see.
Super Frenchie is good enough as a documentary, but it too often feels like it was made just to meet that lowest level of expectation. Filmmakers need to stop trying to replicate the success of other documentaries and just tell their own story in a cinematic way.
Super Frenchie is now in theaters and on VOD.