Sundance 2013 Review: ‘Linsanity’ is a Magical and Deserved Hagiographic Portrait of an NBA Sensation
Movies frequently extol the magic of sports, the notion that athletic competition offers a sort of heightened portrait of the best and worst of humanity. The arena is the proving ground where one’s determination, resilience and capacity to achieve greatness are tested against often overwhelming obstacles.
This romanticized view seems out-of-touch in an age of aggressive parents forcing their kids into intense, year-round youth competition, when college programs exploit their student-athletes, when the professional leagues are dominated by greedy stabs at corporate dollars and players are no more than mercenaries in search of the next big check.
But sometimes real life actually does mirror fiction. Sometimes, a sports story is so great, so inspiring, that your faith is restored. For proof, look no further than Jeremy Lin.
If you somehow weren’t aware, Lin was a no-name NBA player, who in early February of last year had been cut twice in his short career and seemed days away from his basketball dream being seized for good. That’s when then-New York Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni unexpectedly gave the second-year point guard from Harvard the chance to play against the New Jersey Nets. Lin scored 25 points, catapulted his way into the team’s starting line-up and birthed the global “Linsanity” sensation.
It’s Hollywood stuff that played out on the Madison Square Garden court, in front of our eyes. And it’s the dramatic payoff in Linsanity, a documentary from Evan Jackson Leong that’s centered on the 24-year-old hoop sensation. But the movie’s about more than the run of sustained success that earned Lin a massive contract from the Houston Rockets and a permanent place in the NBA fraternity.
Leong followed Lin for several years before anyone had coined the term “Linsanity.” His camera observes Lin at Harvard, at home in his native Palo Alto, Califorina, hanging out with his brothers, participating in Bible study and exploring his family’s roots in Taiwan. The film offers a candid portrait of the pressures to perform that built to a powerful crescendo during the player’s unsuccessful first year-plus in the pros, the racism and generally callous disregard that followed him because of his Asian heritage and the other considerable obstacles placed in his stereotype-shattering way.
The film leans toward hagiography, but if any subject warrants that treatment, Lin is he. There’s simply nothing objectionable or controversial about him. And his story, as told in a movie that deepens your appreciation for what “Linsanity” represented for the player and the culture at large, is proof that sometimes sports really are magical.
The Upside: The Jeremy Lin story is remarkable and faith-restoring.
The Downside: Some of the heavily stylized Lin workout scenes would be more at home in a Nike commercial.
On the Side: Lin is the first American-born NBA player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent.