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‘We Can Be Heroes’ Review: LARP Community Gives Outcast Teens Solace in Oddball Documentary

Sure, we can all be heroes, but not all documentaries can be winners.

“We Can Be Heroes” is an uneven attempt to shed light on a little-known community of teen LARPers, or rather, live-action role players. The film, which debuted in the SXSW 2024 Documentary Feature Competition, focuses on outcast teens who harness their “main character energy” in a LARP camp in rural upstate New York.

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As one camper explains, there is not a literal emphasis on defeating the “enemies” of the LARP world; instead, LARPing is about dismantling the inner demons of anxiety and the fear of being unlovable. He then goes on to say that he hopes to find true love someday. And that’s where “We Can Be Heroes” finds a glimmer of promise: These kids are looking to the medieval-themed role-playing games to locate some semblance of hope within the mystical storytelling.

Teens from all over the country travel to a LARP camp and are divided into “courts,” or teams, to play. The community is comprised of neurodivergent adolescents, as well as kids who suffer from physical ailments. Yet there is no overarching story of hope or forced social context for any of them: These are just regular teens who are looking for some fun and to find a community where they belong.

“We Can Be Heroes,” though, relies too heavily on the “let’s watch them play” element. The feature, directed by Carina Mia Wong and Alex Simmons, is casually edited and lacks an overt framework or structure. We’re sitting here watching kids poke each other with foam swords between battle cries. As one girl playing a “princess” within the LARP game describes, the play has more weight as the storyline behind her dwindling court mirrors real-life climate change issues. We’d like more of this, please! Putting the kids front and center with more interviews would have made “We Can Be Heroes” feel like a cohesive story, and would give these teens a platform to be their own “heroes” within the arc of the doc.

Instead, we’re left with just observing more and more of the play, while halfway through, still getting another talking head explaining the purpose of LARP. (We’ve already watched 40 minutes of the film, we get it.) “We Can Be Heroes” relies too heavily on the movie-within-a-movie gimmick to underline the LARP storyline, but the feature would have benefitted from either being a tightened short or just pulling out of the fantasy of role-playing. No matter what medieval garments this feature throws on, its lofty heroic mission falls flat.

Rating: C+

“We Can Be Heroes” premiered at the 2024 SXSW Film & TV Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

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