Top Spin

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Top Spin Movie Poster Image
Teens chase Olympic dreams in compelling sports documentary.
  • NR
  • 2014
  • 80 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Competing at the highest levels takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice, which ultimately will only be worthwhile if you do it for yourself because you love what you're doing. Practice and repetition can be really hard, but they lead to improvement. Never give up, keep pushing yourself, dig deep, and you'll be surprised at what you can do. Finding balance in life can be tough, but listen to your heart, be patient, and take advantage of opportunities when they come up.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ariel, Lily, and Michael all model excellent sportsmanship, perseverance, dedication, academic and athletic achievement. They're positive and friendly, even when they're competing. Family members model support, dedication, and sacrifice to help their children reach for their dreams. Friends and coaches are also supportive and dedicated.

Violence
Sex

One player is asked if she has time for dating; she says she doesn't know.

Language
Consumerism

Michael receives a check, shows it proudly, and talks about being able to buy dinner. Sponsorship from Kellogg mentioned. Michael is shown on a box of Corn Flakes. Television shows and magazine articles mentioned, and a clip of an appearance on Conan is shown. A Facebook page is shown. Shopping bags prominent from Forever 21. Teens playing Wii Sports. Several scenes take place in a New York City table tennis club and a bar called Spin, and the owners of Spin are briefly interviewed. Over the end credits, a bottle of Maker's Mark bourbon is slightly obscured.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mention of "drinks everywhere" at a table tennis club that becomes a bar at night. Several scenes in the club, one showing adults seated in front of glasses of beer. A player mentions that more money is available for beer pong than for table tennis. A couple of dinner tables are set with wine in glasses. The end credits show someone playing ping-pong with a wine bottle and glass on the ping-pong table and another person playing using a bottle of Maker's Mark as a paddle.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Top Spin is a documentary that follows three teens as they strive to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic table tennis team. The content is OK for all ages, but tweens and up are best suited for the positive messages and role models about perseverance, dedication, and sacrifice. They'll also learn a lot about what the players have to sacrifice, what's worth making sacrifices for, how much pressure teens can handle, and, of course, competitive table tennis. Adults are shown with alcohol a few times, but no one's seen drinking it. One of the players is more media-savvy than the others, and there's some mention about TV-show appearances, magazine articles, a photo shoot, and more, but they aren't glorified and are presented as some of the many things competing for the player's time and attention.

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What's the story?

TOP SPIN tells the story of Ariel, Lily, and Michael, all high schoolers who all fell in love with table tennis (aka ping-pong) from a very young age. Years of practice, dedication, and sacrifice are hopefully about to pay off as documentary filmmakers follow them in the months leading up to the trials for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. As we get to know each of the three, we also meet the families, coaches, and friends who help and support them as they pursue their dreams. Thrilling wins and heartbreaking losses are part of each athlete's story, too. Do all three have what it takes to chase Olympic gold?

Is it any good?

If competitive table tennis wasn't on your radar, it certainly will be after watching this quietly fascinating and compelling look at three high school kids preparing for the Olympic team trials. Tweens and teens especially will enjoy rooting for Lily, Michael, and Ariel to make the team in Top Spin and will learn a lot about table tennis, sportsmanship, focus, and sacrifice. Although the sport may seem quirky to U.S. audiences, going along with these talented athletes through ups and downs and wins and losses in pursuit of their dreams will open kids' eyes to universal themes of sports achievement.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about sacrifice. What would you be willing to give up to pursue your dream? Friends? School events such as prom or graduation? Time with your family? What makes giving up those things worthwhile for Top Spin's Ariel, Lily, and Michael?

  • Did anything surprise you about the world of competitive table tennis? What's something you didn't know before you saw this movie?

  • How do table tennis players compare to other athletes in the Olympics? Are they as strong or as fit, and do they work as hard as other athletes?

  • How do the athletes in Top Spin demonstrate perseverance? Why is this an important character strength?

Movie details

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For kids who love sports

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