It’s always difficult to form an opinion of true documentaries, especially those that play like well written dramatic fictional films. The art of reality is neither contrived nor completely controlled. What can be said is that this film reminds even those who are the furthest from it, of what it was like to be a high school aged adolescent — even capturing the peer-to-peer chiraptophobia. In “The Heart of the Game”, director Ward Serrill chronicles for six years the highs and lows of the Roosevelt Roughriders, a Seattle high school girls’ basketball team. What he captures is a passionate, if eccentric, coach, whose enthusiasm pervades the team, and one player’s struggle to stay in the game — in more ways than one.
Coach Resler’s laughable eccentricity is most evident in his likening of the players to wild animals such as a pack of wolves, and his championing of the pregame battle cry “Sink your teeth in!” Unfortunately, Serrill only briefly explores the racial and socioeconomic disparities between the two star players that contribute to their squabbling. While not integral to the plot, nor overt, one of the players grows to adulthood as a seemingly confident lesbian in spite of a traumatic event in her life. Serrill chooses wisely to talk directly to the subjects of the film, keeping the movie separated, thankfully, from the typical “jocks prevail in spite of odds” flick; offering an earnest look at the trials and motivations of the coach and the young players.
After you solve the mystery of the familiar voice, you realize that while it’s clear that rapper Ludacris is lazily detached from what he’s saying, the delivery of his narration is for the ears what warm cocoa is on a chilly Seattle morning. Most touching is the appearance of an alumnus who played on the school’s basketball team in the early twentieth century; a time when women wore calf-length hoop skirts and fitted sweaters as the standard uniform. The young women were instructed not to run around too much during the game so as not to sweat profusely. In those days, only the unrefined and less than ladylike allowed themselves to sweat in public.
Not totally without flaws, the film’s intense close-ups during individual interviews give the audience confidence that if they breathe deeply, they could smell the interviewee’s breath. Coach Resler’s sensationalism of Darnellia Russell is mirrored by the film itself, which throughout attempts to force us to realize her it-factor so much that the audience watches with anxiety, wondering what terrible fate will befall the aggressive underdog. It turns out that the inspirational story of triumph that follows doesn’t quite reach the heights of the superstar sell.
If you’re in the mood for a flick that will spark your interest in women’s basketball, a women’s empowerment movie, a sports drama, or maybe a college entrance highlight reel showcasing “The Best of Danellia Russell,” you’ve found it. In all honesty, the story isn’t eye opening or fresh in any way. It does however show a group of girls with the heart for playing and winning the game in spite of their odds.
The Heart of the Game
Grade Scale: C+
Genre: Documentary/Sports and Teen Drama
DVD Release: soon
Runtime: 97 min.