Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 06/02/23

“It’s not how you start the game, it’s how you finish.” That clearly stated optimistic (and true) idea provides a compelling theme for Shooting Stars (rated PG-13 and dropping today on Peacock), the terrific and engrossing origin story of basketball superhero LeBron James. His inspirational story of the possibilities that can be realized when talent, hard work, focus, persistence, teamwork and opportunity come together is a sort of real-life parable that younger people (and older folks too) should remember and take to heart.

Speaking of heart, Shooting Stars has plenty of it, particularly in its portrayal of the bond of friendship and loyalty between young LeBron (top-rainked amateur hoopster Marquis “Mookie” Cook in a superb screen debut) and his teammates (and fellow Shooting Stars) Lil Dru (Caleb McLaughlin of Stranger Things), Willie McGee (Avery S. Wills Jr. of the basketball-themed Apple TV+ series Swagger) and Sian Cottin (Khalil Everage of Cobra Kai). Together they make for an impressive ensemble and are all potential future shooting stars of movies and TV.

Acting props also go out to Wood Harris (of Creed) who plays Dru Joyce, Lil Dru’s dad who held the friends together as they transitioned from a a public school in Akron, Ohio (where the movie was shot on location) to join the basketball team at St. Vincent-St. Mary High, an area Catholic school. He went on to inspire them, first as the assistant coach to Keith Dambrot (excellently played by Dermot Mulroney of Shameless) then as head coach when Dambrot disappointed the team by accepting a college ball coaching opportunity at his alma mater, the University of Akron. That’s where the movie does hit a bit of a credibility snag – as, when confronted by the team, it depicts Dambrot as walking off the court during a state championship. Given the competitiveness of his character and the presumed loyalty he has for his squad, that’s a little hard to believe – and, at least one critic has cast doubt on that scenario and I couldn’t find anything to back up that it actually happened. An otherwise totally fine and believable script by screenwriters Frank E. Flowers, Tony Rettenmaier and Juel Taylor suffers from a bit of cognitive dissonance here.

Also, re: Dambrot. It was curious that, while the film (as is customary in this genre) updated what happened to just about all the principal characters, it did not provide such info about Dambrot who, according to Wikepedia, went on to a stellar college coaching career. I can’t help but wonder if that might be because to do so might have undermined the narrative that they didn’t need him to win. In fact, they didn’t because the team kept on winning after he left – but, still, he had something to do with getting them there. To be sure, I fully understand the desire to avoid the annoyingly paternalistic “white savior” cliché but I think that could be accomplished while still giving the man his due.

Another shooting star of the film is director Chris Robinson (TV’s Star, Black-ish, Grown-ish, Mixed-ish, and American Soul). When I  interviewed him he said it was the script’s aspects of brotherhood and loyalty (as well as the embedded father-son story) that resonated with him. Those elements are all there and he certainly succeeded in conveying them. He also has an awesome visual style that convinces me that we’re going to be seeing a lot more of him and that his name will soon become a lot more known to the general public.

The Bottom Line: A compelling and optimistic story that is Recommended.

Note: Due to my own scheduling issues my promised review of The CW‘s upcoming fall schedule will be held until next week.

John W. Kennedy is a writer, producer and media development consultant specializing in television and movie projects that uphold positive timeless values, including trust in God.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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