Knight at the Movies ARCHIVES
The power of thinking in tandem is explored in an inspiring documentary and a moony romance
My niece is 13 and for the past two or three years has been basketball crazy. No matter the weather conditions, she is to be found
out on the driveway practicing her game. Basketball is all she thinks about or talks about and not even the end of the season can
dampen her enthusiasm. So great is her love of the game that a recent family move prompted a crisis that was averted only when
she was assured that her new school was as serious about basketball as she is.
This kind of passion is evident from the first frame of Ward Serrill’s documentary The Heart of the Game which chronicles the
ups and downs of a high school girl’s basketball team in Seattle. Serrill, who makes his feature debut with the movie, has spent his
career making short films highlighting social causes. When Serrill met Bill Resler, a tax professor at the University of Washington
who had just started moonlighting as the basketball coach for the Roosevelt Roughriders, neither knew that they were about to
embark on a seven year journey that would result in such a terrific movie – the female version of Hoop Dreams.
Like all great sports documentaries, The Heart of the Game is filled with the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” but there is
also a great deal of humor. This stems from Resler, a great camera subject, whose lack of ego, gentleness, and sense of fair play
is contrasted with an abashed lust for competition. When Resler begins coaching the Roughriders they are simply an adjunct to the
boy’s team and their games are barely attended by the students, faculty and parents.
But Resler’s common sense approach, revolutionary for a coach, makes an immediate impact. Though he makes the girls work hard
and is clearly no push over, he’s also not a foul mouthed drill sergeant who feels the need to impart punishing life lessons. Then
there is Resler’s simple decision to allow his team players to take ultimate responsibility for themselves. Instead of pitting players
against each other, he institutes an “inner circle” for the team members and in a brilliant stroke, excludes himself from the circle
and abides by its decisions. Next, Resler devises a theme for each basketball season to help focus the team. “Magical Journey” is
his first, “Pack of wolves” in which the girl’s are encouraged to act as a pack of bloodthirsty wolves going after their prey, is his
This last idea is cautiously embraced by Resler’s players his first year on the job. But the moment the Roughriders start winning
under his direction, thus breaking a long also ran streak, caution goes by the wayside and by the second year of his tenure, the girl’s
are howling and baying and almost pawing the ground before the start of their games.
Into this arena strides the confident Darnellia Russell, an inner city African-American player who has transferred to Roosevelt based
on the promise of college scholarships offered by the team’s new found status. At the outset of the film we see Russell on the court
with Resler and are told immediately in voice over by him that Darnellia is nothing less than the second coming. But wisely, Serrill
waits until much later in the film to focus on the rising star. By the time Russell joins the Roughriders we are firmly in league with
Resler’s emphasis on the team over the individual. It’s not surprising that the headstrong Russell will tangle with her coach and
other teammates but there will also be one dramatic roadblock after another thrown in her path (and the team’s) as she clearly
emerges as something to be reckoned with.
As the story of the team and Russell moves toward its conclusion, Resler gets a bit lost in the drama – understandable as Russell’s
story becomes the obvious one to tell as the team moves toward their first state championship against Russell’s previous inner city
alma mater. But as inspiring as Russell’s story is, the Santa Claus look a-like coach with his gentle humor, his dog, his briefly
mentioned wife and kids, and his unaffected approach, is the more compelling subject – perhaps because it’s been so rarely
The film has a terrific music score and is narrated by rap star Ludachris.
Chicagoans should love The Lake House, the onscreen reteaming of Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. This is one film that
didn't scrimp on the budget trying to fudge Chicago locations ala Wicker Park and the biggest sinner, the musical version of Chicago.
In fact, the movie, a gloomy romance, features so many area locations sumptuously photographed that it would be criminal if the
Illinois Film Board didn’t get permission to use the movie as an advertisement for future productions. But what about those not from
Chicago? Will they be quite as distracted by all that pretty scenery and “guess the location” games?
Depends, I guess, on their appreciation for Somewhere in Time and other time traveling romance movies (others don’t immediately
come to mind) and their ability to make a leap of faith in the credulity department. Mine was stretched thin but my partner – who
loves anything that hints of weepy romance – was transported plenty. You say tomato, he says “Jane Seymour.”
Those expecting another action picture from the Speed costars (which made Bullock’s career) are in for a disappointment. Bullock
and Reeves are not involved in a runaway bus with explosives aboard or anything that even hints of action. But Bullock’s character,
a morose Doctor, is still in need of rescuing and through unexplained, “magical” circumstances, Reeves, with his odd, pigeon-toed
stride, again becomes her savior.
The pretzel logic story winds around the Doctor and an architect (Reeves) who psychically share the same space – the lake house of
the title – a glass box that features a tree that naturally will burst through the glass ceiling as the romance proceeds via a two year
time warp. The duo somehow figure out that they’re sharing the same plane of existence and, in You’ve Got Mail fashion, begin
sharing letters through the mailbox in front of the house. There are many more complications on the understandably bumpy road to
love. Namely, how to hook up when your love interest is living two years in the future?
These questions are never fully explored or sufficiently resolved but this isn’t a movie for logicians – this is one for those deep into
romance. Though we get a clear sense of why Reeves has been so troubled – via another one of those dyspeptic performances by
Christopher Plummer as his exacting, monstrous father (and what a cheerful film legacy of sourpusses he’s leaving behind) – we
never really get a clear picture of Bullock’s insistent ennui. Is she a manic depressive? Why the long case of the blues?
This is also a film that moves slowly. Director Alejandro Agresti isn’t afraid to let sequences go on past the usual three minutes.
The centerpiece, in fact, comes at the midway point when Bullock and Reeves meet at a party and aimlessly talk for a good ten
minutes in real time. I quite liked this languorous sequence, so rare, even in a typical old fashioned romance, and it kept me
involved until the film’s rather satisfying pay off. That, the delicate Rachel Portman musical score, and more of that lovely Chicago
area scenery, kept me on board until the credits began to roll. And around me, there were sniffles aplenty. Something that surely
wasn’t heard at the conclusion of the first Bullock-Reeves pairing. Whether that is a compliment I cannot say though my partner
insists that this was immediately going on our Netflix cue.
June is Gay Pride month and in honor of that, Windy City Times and Knight at the Movies is presenting The First Annual GLBT Pride
Movie Survey. This is your chance, dear reader, to weigh in with your thoughts on the Best, the Worst, the Campiest, and the Sexiest
GLBT movies (and more) of all time. Click HERE to fill take part in the survey and enter the drawing for a pretty nifty prize!
*The Lake House screened after my WCT deadline but in time for me to include it here.
The Heart of the Game-The Lake House
6-14-06 Knight at the Movies/Windy City Times Column*
By Richard Knight, Jr.