The Heart of the Game

DVD Reviews | Mar 25th, 2007

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Starring Bill Resler, Darnelia Russell, Ludacris (voice)
Written By: Ward Serrill
Directed By: Ward Serrill
Studio: Miramax
Buy on Amazon.com link

The Heart of the Game is a documentary that follows six years of a Seattle area girls high school basketball team as they go from nobodies to one of the best teams in the state. The film focuses on the shift that occurred when business teacher Bill Resler took over the team and put together a program that was equally inspiring and challenging for the team. As the film progresses, one player in particular becomes the focus – Darnelia Russell, an inner city girl who is going to a largely middle class school and tearing up the courts, but not without controversy. Russell gets pregnant halfway through her junior year, and when she returns to school, undergoes a hectic and tumultuous court battle over her eligibility.

What makes this documentary so fascinating is the devotion director Serrill paid to the team, following them for a full six years. For the most part, it seemed like he was just collecting the footage and allowing the stories to tell themselves, giving him an opportunity to focus on those he felt were interesting. One of these in the early stages looks at a player on the film’s first year’s team, who was sexually abused by her basketball tutor. This was an interesting side story, but ultimately detracted from the rest of the film.

The majority of the team’s story looks at Russell, whose talents at junior high give her a significant buzz en route to a high school across town that becomes the rival of the school local to her area. Russell’s impact on the team is shown to be pretty significant, although external sources suggest she did not single-handedly cary them during any of the years in which she played with them.

Nevertheless, the story becomes focused around Russell’s hardships, struggles, successes, and the inspiration given to her by Resler, who at time appears to be an exciting leader and at other times seems to be spewing self-empowerment B.S. The film is narrated by rapper Ludacris, and while it seems to be effective, at times the narration seems a little bit too serious. The documentary as a whole is pretty laugh-free – it takes its subject and approach with a completely deadpan stare, as if high school girls’ basketball is the centre of the world. Still, nothing is more ridiculous than the commentators during any actual television broadcast, who refer to the players as if they’ve know them their whole lives. The whole world here seems to revolve around basket ball.

That said, I have to say that I think that focusing on girls’ basketball is a really interesting step. In many states, the football team is the only thing in the world. This film shows that the girls are just as important. The team gained legions of local fans, with more students showing up for them than the boys team. In this way, the film is amazingly empowering. All of the girls interviewed, including Russell, are strong-willed, intelligent, and positive female athletes. This can and should be played for all secondary students interested or involved in sports.

I think the biggest issue I had with the film is that it treads too lightly over one of its central cruxes. Russell is forced to miss a year of school and the team, and when she returns, Resler puts her on the team; despite the fact that this is her fifth year of high school, the rulebook states that each student is entitled to up to four years on any high school sports team, and can get this extended into subsequent years if a hardship has occurred. At the centre of this is the issue of whether or not pregnancy is a hardship; the rules stated by the high school athletics association are predominantly focused on male sports, and so this hasn’t come up before. Resler and a group of lawyers fight the issue, and it looms over Russell’s final year, when the team is the best ever and finally has a shot at the state championship. Serrill adds some comments on a radio show, some of which condemn her choice of pregnancy – by a boyfriend who she had been with since 7th grade, and who was still supporting the baby – while in high school. I think this issue would have been great to look into further, but then again, that might give the film a political bias, and that is not the focus here.

Overall, The Heart of the Game, is a nice, heart-warming exploration of a team’s journey to become the best in state. It’s amazingly comprehensive, with so much footage, and every little detail covered. That said, there’s nothing hear that is all too mind-blowing or unique, but it’s a great uplifting film to show teenagers, especially teenage girls.

Features:
Deleted scenese with audio commentary
Director Commentary
The Making of the Heart of the Game
Beyond The Heart of the Game with interviews with Ludacris, Russell, and Resler

Audio:
Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0

Video:
Widescreen, Colour

Subtitles:
English, French, Spanish

Favorite Scenes: I have to admit, some of the basketball games are done really intensely.
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 98 minutes
Extras Rating:
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