Entrepreneurship is a gamble, so it seems noteworthy that the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, with a $100,000 prize for the best pitch, takes place in casino-heavy Macau, off the coast of Hong Kong. But the five young subjects of this documentary, “Own the Room” (streaming on Disney+), are gambling on us as much as we are on them.
Tucked like a pair of aces into a solid but unremarkable hand of poker is a story arc that not only heightens the dramatic tension, but also clarifies the film’s more compelling ideas, skillfully tying the stories of the documentary’s subjects to their political subtext.
Directed by Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster, “Own the Room” is an all-around competent documentary, profiling its five students and tracking their journey to the entrepreneur semifinals. But beyond their projects, the subjects pitch themselves to the viewer in ways that feel especially vigorous. One subject’s pursuits embody an American dream, while another’s motivation the failure of the dream.
Although there’s little new about the format in which these stories are told, the details of the young people’s backgrounds, and the geopolitical complexities they embody, never fail to fascinate. Daniela Blanco has seen war’s destruction of her homeland of Venezuela, and has found a home in New York for her work using solar-powered electrochemical and thermonuclear reactions that help create synthetic materials like nylon. Alondra Toledo’s family bakery fed thousands of people in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and the desperate need for medical assistance during that catastrophe informed Toledo’s goal of improving communication between deaf patients and their doctors who don’t use sign language.
While these specifics are engrossing, they feel disconnected from a more fleshed-out, and critical, whole. Though Blanco’s feelings about Venezuela and the difference in the economic structure in her country of origin and her home in New York might influence her approach to her vocation, “Own the Room” stops short of asking more challenging questions about how money and opportunity alter the students’ philosophies. With a wider lens, the documentary might question whether or not owning the room is within reach, or if the house always wins.
Own the Room
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. Watch on Disney+.
www.nytimes.com 2021-03-12 12:15:03