At one point in Pop Star On Ice, a commentator uses coded language to essentially accuse eccentric athlete Johnny Weir of being too flamboyantly gay for the figure-skating world. Weir replies that his sexual proclivities should not be a matter of public record. That’s understandable but frustrating: Documentaries thrive on candor and intimacy, two qualities the film fatally lacks. Weir has a reputation as a wild child and a loose cannon with little concern for propriety, but he’s awfully cautious here about what he reveals about himself.
The charismatic athlete boasts a life story too strange for fiction. Born in small-town Pennsylvania, Weir didn’t begin figure skating until he was 12, but quickly established himself as a prodigy supremely gifted at jumps. Yet even as the sartorially daring Weir rocketed up the figure-skating ranks, rumors spread that he was too undisciplined to make it to the pinnacle of superstardom. Weir’s brash personality makes him a fan favorite, but it also makes him a controversial figure in the tradition-and-rule-bound skating world.
Weir might actually be too good a documentary subject. The filmmakers seem so dazzled by his surface charm and unlikely rise to fame that they don’t bother to dig any further. Pop Star On Ice glides busily along the surface, capturing the glossy appeal of Weir’s persona without elucidating the complicated man under the rock-star swagger. Directors James Pellerito and David Barba find Weir as endlessly fascinating as he finds himself; in addition to Ice, they’ve filmed a reality show about the skater for the Sundance Channel, called Be Good Johnny Weir. Perhaps television will prove a better medium to explore Weir’s idiosyncrasies than this engaging yet superficial documentary.