The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



If you've ever Instagrammed a picture of your own shoes, odds are you'll find Sneakerheadz of interest. The documentary looks at the phenomenon of sneaker obsession and the lengths some people go to in order to collect them. Directors David T. Friendly and Mick Partridge explore the psychology behind sneaker collecting, a hobby in which participants often don't even wear the clothing item they're so intent on possessing.

Self-professed fanatics like comedian Mike Epps, skateboarder Rob Dyrdek, and rapper Wale are just a few of the interview subjects. They offer thoughts on their own collections, in addition to the forces that fueled interest in sneakers in the '80s and continue to do so today. (Hip-hop culture, skateboarding, and sports are cited as particularly influential.) Sneakerheadz also provides education about what makes certain shoes desirable. A popular tactic is for companies to make “exclusives” or to partner with some other well-known artist/brand. There are sneakers inspired by the likes of Michael Jordan, Gucci, and the Wu-Tang Clan. (I confess to owning both Spider-Man and Star Wars sneakers.) People line up in front of stores for days, hoping to snag a pair of the hottest new model.

The movie also looks at the significant impact the internet has had. Whereas collectors once had to travel around the world in search of elusive kicks, they can now compete in online bidding wars to get them. Some of the film's subjects have thousands of pairs, which are kept in safes or storage facilities. If it seems pointless to buy sneakers and never use them – or to keep them hidden away where you never even see them – it is. But that doesn't deter the faithful, who seem to get a rise out of the frantic search. In other words, it's the journey, not the destination.

Sneakerheadz addresses these things in a fun, fast-paced manner. But it also doesn't shy away from showing the dark side of sneaker obsession. (And yes, there is a dark side.) Shoe companies create buzz for certain designs by making sure the supply doesn't meet the demand, which leads to people buying and reselling them at massive markups. It even leads to violence when people fight in stores, or, worse, engage in shoe-stealing. In the film, we meet one mother whose son was shot and killed over his sneakers. YouTube footage of a teenager having his kicks stolen after getting beaten up is included, too. Shockingly, the film claims that sneaker-related crimes are responsible for 1,000 deaths per year.

Obviously, sneakers don't provide the deepest subject matter for a documentary, and even at just 70 minutes, Sneakerheadz starts to feel a little long at times. Even so, it does a fine job getting at what sneakers mean to people and how the culture has many aspects. The film ends with a look at a children's hospital where patients design shoes as a fundraiser. The activity seems to bring them joy, as well as an important touch of positivity that they need to recover. It's a nice grace note to an entertaining movie that celebrates the simple happiness a fancy pair of sneakers can bring.

( out of four)

Note: Sneakerheadz opens in limited theatrical release on August 7, and will be available on Vimeo August 21.

Sneakerheadz is unrated, but contains some strong language and a scene of disturbing violence. The running time is 1 hour and 10 minutes.

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