'Shooting Stars' Review: LeBron James' Origin Story Lovingly Sanitized by Peacock

‘Shooting Stars’ Review: LeBron James’ Origin Story Lovingly Sanitized by Peacock

Practically from the beginning of his career, LeBron James has not only been a great basketball player, but a media industry that has spawned a seemingly endless array of products.

The latest example is this new original film by Peacock based on his 2009 memoir co-written with Buzz Bissinger (Friday night lights), which tells the story of his early years and friendship with his high school teammates known as the “Fab Four”, later expanded to become the “Fab Five”. The story had already been told in the 2008 documentary More than a Gamebut that won’t stop GOAT fans from wanting to see this lovingly rendered adaptation that covers all the highlights of his early career, albeit sometimes in sanitized form.

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Falling stars

The bottom line

Mostly affects his strokes.

Release date: Friday 2 June
Launch: Wood Harris, Marquis “Mookie” Cook, Caleb McClaughlin, Natalie Paul, Algee Smith, Dermot Mulroney, Khalil Everage, Sterling “Scott” Henderson, Katlyn Nichol, Avery S. Wills, Jr.
Director: Chris Robinson
Screenwriters: Frank E. Fiori Tony Rettenmaier, Juel Taylor

Rated PG-13, 1 hour 56 minutes

The story begins with James (Marquis “Mookie” Cook, a top-ranked amateur basketball player making an impressive screen debut) playing in a youth league in Akron, Ohio, along with his three best friends: Lil Dru (Caleb McLaughlin, Stranger things), Willie McGee (Avery S. Wills, Jr.) and Sian Cottin (Khalil Everage, Cobra Kai). The coach of the team called “Shooting Stars” is Lil Dru’s father, Dru Joyce (Wood Harris, I believe), who exerted a strong influence on the group.

The four friends made a pact to attend high school together, but Lil Dru’s small stature jeopardized any chances they could all play for the same team. They made the controversial decision not to attend their local public high school, but rather St. Vincent-St. Mary’s, a private Catholic school with a predominantly white student population. They laughingly referred to themselves as the “Black Irish,” but their decision didn’t go over well with everyone in the community.

“How does it feel to be a pimp for St. Vincent?” some sneered, while another local fan labeled the group a “sold out.” However, the friends, joined by former rival and new teammate Romeo Travis (Sterling “Scoot” Henderson), thrive in their new surroundings, coached by Keith Dambrot, a former college basketball coach who was fired for using a racial slur and has trouble adjusting to his inferior status. Played by Dermot Mulroney in a stunning performance, the character proves to be one of the most interesting in the film, displaying sharp realism and self-deprecating humor, as well as fierce dedication to his players.

The film dutifully covers all the narrative underpinnings in the subject’s younger years, including meeting his girlfriend and future wife Savannah (Katlyn Nichol); her meteoric rise to fame which included being on the cover of Sports illustrated while still in high school; and controversies such as being suspended from the team after accepting a vintage jersey from an avid fan who begs to be photographed with him. At least, that’s how the film presents it, which counts James among its producers. In fact, he received two jerseys from a clothing store in exchange for posing for pictures, a violation of Ohio High School Athletic Association rules. Considering that the incident didn’t exactly cost him his future career, the portrayal of the incident seems curious.

The screenplay co-written by Frank E. Flowers, Tony Rettenmaier and Juel Taylor leans heavily on the kind of interpersonal dynamics that have driven sports movies since Hollywood started making them. Lil Dru bristles at the disrespect engendered by her short stature, demonstrating her prowess by landing reckless jabs from outside. LeBron argues with his girlfriend, who is annoyed by his fans’ constant interruptions (“Are you done being famous now?” he asks at one point) and doesn’t accept his comment that he’s “hit the lottery” with their relationship at all Well. Not all of these incidents prove to be as compelling as the filmmakers seem to think, and the nearly two-hour running time drags out more often than not.

Fortunately, director Chris Robinson provides ample cinematic distraction, collaborating with cinematographer Karsten Gonipath in shooting the many basketball sequences in a dynamic fashion, often altering the visual style to keep things interesting. It doesn’t hurt that many of the young lead actors have the kind of real b-ball experience to make their characters’ feats on the court seem believable. There are times, however, where Robinson, who has extensive experience shooting music videos, becomes overly cute; when two players shake hands on the pitch, an on-screen graph informs us that this means “Respect”.

The film is most effective in its moving portrayal of the strong bond between its central young characters and the positive influence of the various adults in their lives, such as James’ determined single mother Gloria (Natalie Paul) and their coaches, including Dambrot, who does not miss the opportunity to leave the boys when he is offered a university position. It’s a reminder that Falling stars it’s (mostly) a true story rather than the kind of Hollywood hokum that would require sacrificing one’s self-interest for the sake of the boys.

Other elements that provide additional layers of authenticity are the extensive use of real Ohio locations that have featured prominently in the story, and graphics during the end credits that inform us about the current state of real-life characters – the one on James who is especially funny.