Ambition Up their Sleeves 

Make Believe: How to Win Friends and Perform Magic

MAKE BELIEVE The loneliness begins.

MAKE BELIEVE The loneliness begins.

FROM THE MAKERS of The King of Kong comes Make Believe, another doc that deftly walks the tightrope between ridicule and sympathy. Instead of a strange subculture built around 40-year-old men conquering 30-year-old arcade games, Make Believe follows a handful of self-assured but socially awkward teenagers as they vie for the dubious title of the World's Best Teen Magician.

Writer Cleven S. Loham and director J. Clay Tweel perform their own magic trick of making this strange, insular world seem as alluring as it is for these kids, and it gets neophytes up to speed just enough to start laying on the creeping dread as these fragile kids create their fragile illusions for a group of eagle-eyed adults to mercilessly pick apart. There's no Billy Mitchell-esque villain; the closest analogue is 17-year-old Krystyn Lambert, a deadly ambitious overachiever who is advised—and aspires—to be the Britney Spears of the magic world. But, as in Kong, there's genuine suspense and real emotion in watching these kids, who have tossed aside friendships and scholarships, attempt at—and sometimes succeed in—achieving acceptance and self-discovery via card tricks and sleight of hand.

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