Alex recommends the most entertaining documentary you’ll ever see, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.
I don’t watch as many documentaries as one might think; I tend to watch about one a month, to go along with the (approximately) 387 narrative films I watch. I used to watch more docs, but as time has passed the number has slowly gone down to where it is now. This isn’t a conscious choice, it’s just the way things go in my life. I read non-fiction almost exclusively, so I tend to want to get into more of a story when I decide to watch a movie. I read non-fiction, I watch fiction. This is probably ridiculous, but it’s how I do things.
The thing I always find about documentaries, when I do watch them, is that they tend to be extremely fast-paced. I find that since documentaries usually cover a long period of time, they tend to feel like they are moving quickly just because of how much time is passing throughout the course of the film. And then there are some that are so entertaining that – in conjunction with how quickly the film moves – they feel like they’re over about 5 minutes after you press play.
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is a competition documentary, which is primarily what leads to how quickly it moves, but it is also because every person in the movie is such an interesting character. And these aren’t characters like you see in movies, but characters like you would refer to people in real life.
“How do you feel about Billy Mitchell?”
“That guy with the long straight hair and the Chuck Norris beard? Oh, he’s a real character.”
He’s also a shit head.
The movie is about the quest to obtain the world high score on the arcade game Donkey Kong, a record that is held by the aforementioned chicken wing sauce enthusiast Billy Mitchell at the beginning of the film. Steve Wiebe, a suburban father who might be the nicest human being of all time, gets laid off from his job and fills the time by attempting to become the greatest Donkey Kong player in the world. The film is mostly about these two, but along the way you will also meet plenty of other characters from the world of professional arcade gaming.
What makes the film work as well as it does is the simple dichotomy between Mitchell and Wiebe: everybody who watches the film loves Wiebe, but nobody can stand Mitchell. This is primarily because Mitchell stands in for every overconfident, asshole nerd you’ve ever met, but mostly just because he’s a terrible person. The movie follows the quest for excellence, and along the way will make you laugh, laugh some more, and then throw your Pepsi can at the TV because you simply hate Billy Mitchell that much. You might not even finish your drink before you throw it. Have the Windex ready.
This film was a miniature sensation when it was released in 2007, so you might already know the ending before you start watching. But what you may not know is the current state of the world record, something that you should look up after you watch the movie. Until then, however, you should track down a copy of The King of Kong. I have probably seen this movie 15 times, and could go for watching it another 15. (NOTE: I ended up watching it again 2 days later.) Like Donkey Kong is to the movie’s competitors, watching The King of Kong is an entertaining, frustrating, and ultimately fulfilling pursuit. When I worked at a video store, I recommended it to as many people as I could, and nobody was ever disappointed by it. And if you watch this movie and actually don’t like it, you’re probably not human. I’m sure Mitchell’s entourage could use an extra member.