Unlike most competition-based documentaries, Touch the Wall shrewdly maintains a narrow focus, splitting its attention between four-time Olympic silver-medal-winning swimmer Kara Lynn Joyce and teenage rising star Missy Franklin. Unfortunately, however, Grant Barbeito and Christo Brock's film still proves doggedly shallow, detailing their year-long efforts to make the 2012 Olympic team (in a variety of races) with considerable momentum but scant insight. At 25, Kara finds herself struggling to stay afloat in the sport just as her practice-mate and friend Missy becomes a world champion and Olympic favorite.
The fact that, professionally speaking, Missy and Kara seem to be heading in opposite directions helps Touch the Wall address athletes' fleeting windows for success, as well as the impossibly small margin between winning and losing, stardom and anonymity. Yet brief glimpses of Missy attending the prom and joking around with her parents, and of Kara spending time with her boyfriend, do little to add depth to Barbeito and Brock's portrait of the two swimmers, which is far less engaged in the examination of issues of sacrifice, teamwork, and pressure than in reinforcing the (seemingly valid) image of Missy and Kara as admirably hardworking, loyal, and likable. Content to stay on the surface, it's a puff piece posing as a real documentary.