Set!

The dinner table can be a serious business.

(2021) Documentary (Discovery Plus) Bonnie Overman, Marie Schoenfelder, Christel Schoenfelder, Hilarie Moore, Tim Wyckoff, Crystal Young, Rich Young, Ron Lew, Janet Lew, Cheryl Van Der Heller, Ginnie Miller, Sandra R. Courtney. Directed by Scott Gawlick

There are competitions for everything, from solving crossword puzzles to driving monster trucks to seeing whose frog can jump the farthest. If something can be done, sooner or later human nature will develop a contest for it.

That extends to mundane, everyday tasks as well. Take setting the table, for example. You know, the job your mom made you do when dinner was ready – and one you probably only did grudgingly, at that. You’re probably wondering why people would set tables on purpose. Didn’t they invent children to cover that?

Well, you wouldn’t send a child to decorate these tables. They are elaborate affairs, heavily themed and essentially works of art. There is also a great deal of skill involved; the silverware must be arranged properly and be the proper distance from the plates. Missing by a fraction of an inch can make the difference between winning nothing and winning Best in Show – the highest honor.

Don’t ever say that to Bonnie Overman. She is the Michael Jordan of table setting, having won more Best in Show ribbons than anyone. Her competitors look at her as a rival who can potentially win any competition she enters. The one she’s working on now is for the Orange County Fair in California, near where she lives. There are two themes; travel, and illumination. Bonnie chooses travel, and staying true to her love of cinema, she themes her table to Out of Africa. The OC Fair also gives ribbons out in the two themes for First Place, Second Place and Honorable Mention. There are no cash prizes; these women compete for ribbons and honor.

Did I say women? Well, while most of the competitors are women middle-aged and older, there is at least one man in the competition; Tim Wyckoff, who is also a cosplay enthusiast, but currently unemployed and living with his mom. He is doing a table based on Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go on a very strict budget – you see, some of the women spend thousands of dollars on their tables. Recent immigrant Janet Lew decorates her tables with items she’s picked up from her travels around the world, including a chandelier. Defending champion Crystal Young – the only one in the cast competing in the illumination category – is taking a chance on doing the tried-and-true barn setting to follow the overall theme of the Fair. However, nobody is taking as much of a chance as Hilarie Moore, who looks on these competitions as art installations and she likes to make a point with her art. She uses the travel theme, for example, to protest poaching in Africa and creates a setting compete with taxidermy animals, blood-soaked sand and animal bones. Bon appetit.

Your reaction to these and other contestants who are profiled may depend on your tolerance for obsessive behavior. Some will find them to be fascinating, interesting people with an unusual hobby; others will see them as women (and men) fiercely desperate for recognition, regardless of for what it is being received. Still others will see them as people with way too much time on their hands. Of course, I’m not one to talk; each one of these reviews you read requires somewhere in the neighborhood of five to eight hours of work apiece, from watching the movie to doing research on it, to finally writing, editing and posting the review on the site, multiplied by one review just about every day. We all have our obsessions.

For the most part, Gawlick himself is non-judgmental. He lets the various subjects tell their own story, leaving it up to the viewer to decide what they think, which is pretty admirable when you think about it. Most documentaries have a definite opinion about their subjects and aren’t afraid to express it; Gawlick treats his subjects with respect, which some might argue is more than they deserve. In all honesty, I was a bit gob-smacked by their dedication at first, but as time went by I began to see them a bit more clearly; at the end of the day, these are people who have found an outlet to express themselves, and it sure beats staring at a phone screen all day clicking on “like” buttons. In any case, you’re more likely to find their stories compelling than not, so why not give it a look-see?

REASONS TO SEE: Manages to hold your attention even though you know it shouldn’t.
REASONS TO AVOID: These are the REAL real housewives of Orange County.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and a couple of disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Those who participate in these competitions refer to it as “tablescaping.”
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Discovery Plus
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/15/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wordplay
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Monkey King: Reborn

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