Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Everyone knows the game of pinball, but how many are truly aware of the storied tale behind its origins, or the fact that it was literally criminalized and banned in New York City for over three decades? The endlessly charming, super sweet semi-biopic Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game is here to answer all the prickly questions. West Side Story standout Mike Faist sports an iconic handlebar mustache in an enthusiastic, high-energy performance portraying pinball wizard Roger Sharp—the man who saved the game!

1970s New York City turns out to be the perfect setting for this quirky, fun little film. An older version of Roger (Dennis Boutsikaris) narrates, and even appears throughout scenes physically to add an extra layer of tangible assessment. He helped to overturn the ban on pinball in 1976, but to properly convey his story, the clock must be rolled back to the University of Wisconsin in 1971. It is here where Roger first falls in love with pinball, practicing and perfecting his craft. Not long thereafter, Roger completely relocates to New York City, freshly divorced and fired from his advertising job due to an unfortunately-timed restructuring. 

Roger’s deepest dreams are to become a writer; in his pursuit of the craft, he comes upon an adult bookstore where he can hear the glitzy arcade-noises of a pinball machine calling to him. Roger’s adoration turns to obsession, as he starts going to the store daily from the second it opens. A friendly woman he meets on the elevator on his way to a job interview ends up being his new romantic partner, in the form of curly-haired secretary Ellen (Crystal Reed). In his efforts to secure a writing gig, Roger eventually manages to get in during the early stages of hugely popular Gentlemen’s Quarterly (known today as GQ), who just so happen to be looking for “safe” writers to convey straight male values. It doesn’t take long for Roger’s prose to win over his bosses at GQ.

As Roger’s recollection weaves in and out of his involvement in the skill-based game, we only begin to realize the gravity of his importance when he works on a GQ article about it, which soon balloons into a comprehensive book about pinball. Faist absolutely devours this material, displaying Roger’s unabashed love for pinball as he woos Ellen and befriends her young son, Seth (Christopher Convery). Pinball the game may be “messy and uncontrollable” at times, but the film never once goes off the rails by way of its assured scripting and direction from duo Austin and Meredith Bragg. While there are minimal bells and whistles or stylistic flourishes, Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game is a breezy hour-and-a-half that even the most cynical of pundits should be able to enjoy.

Get your spring-loaded plunger in motion when Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game zooms into limited release theaters and video on demand on Friday, March 17th.

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