Review: "Pop Star on Ice"

In many ways, the title for David Barba and James Pellerito’s documentary profile of ice skater Johnny Weir is inappropriate. Weir is less of a pop star than a diva – after all, a pop star is a relatively benign personality who is widely loved, but a diva is a considerable talent that has been overwhelmed by a sense of self-importance that excites some people but irritates others.

Weir, a three-time U.S. National Figure Skating champion, had been in something of a decline since finishing fifth in the 2006 Olympics. Tactless comments to the media and the desire to take fashion statements to extremes (including his decision to wear Soviet Union-inspired training gear while part of the U.S. Olympic team) does little to endear him with the ice skating elite. His fairly obvious lack of butch machismo brings about borderline homophobic comments from skating analyst Mark Lund, and Weir’s ability to attract modeling gigs provokes a surprisingly catty comment from fellow competitor Evan Lysacek.

Yet Weir is often his own worst enemy. A narcissistic personality coupled with an obvious lack of determination to push harder than his competitors leads to several embarrassingly sloppy performances on a national stage. His loyalty to longtime coach Priscilla Hill doesn’t help his work – it is obvious for much of the film that she is indulging him rather than inspiring him, and Weir’s belated replacement of her inevitably brings about a return to his champion-level performance ability.

In many ways, Barba and Pellerito never quite offer a full understanding of what makes Weir tick – or, for that matter, what keeps him functioning. His exact source of income is never clear (no one ever openly states who is paying his bills), his exercise regimen is only briefly glimpsed, and his social life is conspicuously fuzzy (his male best friend Paris Childers is constantly with him, but Weir refuses to answer a direct question about his sex life).

Also problematic is that “Pop Star on Ice” was not able to clear the rights to present the footage of Weir’s championship appearances. And what few clips are available are heavily edited. Thus, we never get the opportunity to actually see why Weir is the center of so much attention, or understand why he can claim the right to carry on like a diva.

Weir was supposedly the inspiration of Jon Heder’s character in the 2007 comedy “Blades of Glory.” The only difference is that Heder was trying to be funny, but turned out to be something of a bore. Weir, however, is not trying to be funny – and despite the hoopla surrounding him, he is something of a worse bore than Heder’s caricature.

Where’s Brian Boitano when you really need him?

“Pop Star on Ice”
Directed by David Barba and James Pellerito
2010, Documentary, 85 minutes
Distributed by Retribution Media
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