Monday, January 27, 2020

Uncut Gems, and Sports Movies Exploring the Inverse of Fandom

It is 2012, and I am madly in love with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Call me a bandwagoner, call me frustrated with the Phillies and Flyers, but the Sixers are stronger than they've been in years, they're worth more than the cheap tickets, and they finally have a strong core with Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams, Elton Brand and, of course, JRUUUUUUUE Holaday.

Therefore, the 2012 Eastern Semis against the Boston Celtics was a very big one in my house. The team that snuck into the series vs. the big bads, led by Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo. For the first, and arguably only, time, I followed this series very closely, watching full games and growing impressed with my team for hanging in there for seven games.

And then Game 7 happened, and Garnett came alive, Rondo had his moment in the spotlight, and the 76ers lose by ten points. It was a crushing defeat, because this team had given me the illusion that winning was a possibility, especially against the unstoppable Celtics. From this perspective, the perspective of a war-weathered Philadelphia sports fan who'd already seen the Flyers and Eagles fail at a national level to this point, and was about to lose the Phillies into the abyss again, the 2012 NBA Eastern Conference Semis evokes only the emotion of crushing defeat, anguish, and disappointment.

Now what if you were to frame that series from the opposite direction. What if you were made to want the Celtics to win, and not only win, but win BIG?

This is the question that the Safdie Brothers' insanely engaging film Uncut Gems asks. Okay, granted...Uncut Gems asks a lot of questions, and a lot of the film is about some really messed up interpersonal things that have nothing to do with sports. It's really just a drama about a single person going further and further down the rabbit hole, and it's hard to recommend to a group of people who write feel-good posts about baseball cards.

But the movie is technically a sports movie, because it's kinda about sports betting. Since it is 2020, and sports betting is now legal, ubiquitous and over-heralded, it makes sense that there can be a movie about sports betting, and about people getting so tied up in interpersonal transactions and putting his hands in every single pocket, and vice versa, that extreme sports betting is the only way he gets satisfaction. And it's a very alarming portrayal of sports betting, especially in the statement the film's ending makes.

But...the film is centered around the 2012 NBA Eastern Conference Semis. Celtics-Sixers. And Kevin Garnett is a major character in this film, because his entire wellbeing is tied to a rare Ethiopian gem that our central Adam Sandler gem guy is going to sell to him. It's very cool just having KG moseying around the film as himself, and he's great in it.

But...the climax of the film is Game 7. And because Sandler's character has put a large bet on the Celtics, and KG, and because the entire movie revolves around this bet saving our we watch this game in the film...I had to root for the Celtics.

The movie Uncut Gems was so good...that I found myself cheering every time the Celtics scored a point in this movie. About a game from 8 years ago whose outcome made me want to kill Rajon Rondo.

I find it very revolutionary that a movie can do this, take a game you remember from your childhood and make you learn to see it from the other perspective. And it's not like Uncut Gems was the first to do this. Moneyball was about a season where the goal was to beat the Yankees, a team that ousted them a year prior, and seeing the 2002 season like the A'S were the most heartbreaking playoff departure was odd.

I do think it's very interesting that sports films, and filmmaking in general, can make the viewer have a vested interest in whatever central figure or team is depicted, regardless of whether or not said central figure correlates or is contradicted by the viewer's pre-existing bias. Cubs fans must still get sad at Eight Men Out. Giants fans must still cheer at Jackie's climactic hit in 42. Hell, even Mariners fans can get behind being the villains in Little Big League.

There's something to be said about good sports filmmaking then. You can even root that back to NFL Films, a company that knows how to give any team an inspirational story and let any fan, regardless of bias, root for them over the course of the film. There's a reason Steve Sabol just got inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sometimes you have to tell a story a certain way in order to win the viewership of countless people.

Anyway. Just my two cents about a sports movie that's only barely about sports. As you were.


  1. Highly recommend this film and thanks for your insightful perspective!

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