The Center for Asian American Media, or CAAM (Formerly NAATA, as in "NAATA chance I'm going to remember what it stands for), which has put on the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, or SFIAAFF (as in, "How do you pronounce SFIAAFF? And while we're at it, how can it be the International Asian American Film Festival?) has officially changed the name of the festival to CAAMFest (As in, "Screw it, I'm going to keep calling CAAMFest 'AsianFest.' And yes, I know there are other Asian Film Festivals in the bay area, but they're the first, biggest, and best, so they get the 'honor' of the name.")
Anyway, after the extensive opening thank-yous, we finally got to the opening night film, a crowd-pleaser about a local hero, LINSANITY. That's right, Jeremy Lin grew up in the bay area (Palo Alto, to be specific) and was a local high school basketball star before...not being recruited by any major basketball schools. So instead he attended Harvard, where he was a star there and showed NBA potential, and eventually was...undrafted. But he was picked up and signed by his local team, the Golden State Warriors, and got a chance to play in front of his vocal hometown fans. And he...didn't do too well. So he was cut. And signed to the Houston Rockets...and cut again in under two weeks. And he signed with the Knicks. Where he struggled. Over the course of his early career, he was sent down to the D-league many times, which he described as some of his worst basketball times (in the D-league everyone is playing for himself to get back to the NBA, nobody plays as a team.) And he was maybe a day from being cut by the Knicks when Linsanity exploded. And that's when even I, who doesn't follow the NBA much at all, heard about him. But the filmmakers, led by director Evan Jackson Leong, had followed him around for quite a while before that (you have to wonder what movie they would have made if he hadn't broken out like that--the struggles of an Asian American with hoop dreams?)
Now, the story is undeniably inspiring (although he's fallen to earth a little bit recently, ironically while playing for the Rockets) and the last chapter is yet to be written. The filmmakers were blessed to get such great access to Lin before he blew up, and they build a portrait of a charming, goofy, very personable guy who loves his family and is devoted to God. And here I need to be very careful. I have been fairly open about my atheism here. But I certainly don't think belief in God--and a frequently publicly declared belief in God--makes you an unlikable person or an uninteresting/unsympathetic character for a movie. If you'll pardon the cliche, some of my best friends are Christian. But in general, a belief in God (at least if you're doing it right) reduces the conflict in your life. And conflict is the heart of drama, so a story that minimizes the conflict inherently minimizes the drama.
And it's a shame, because the movie could have emphasized the conflict and drama surrounding his story a lot more. Specifically, the questions of racism that surrounded him. Several times it's touched upon briefly before going back to an account of his career and his faith. Would he have been recruited in college, or drafted into the NBA, if he had the same game and same stats but were black instead of Asian? (The quick answer that Lin himself offers is "Yes" but it's never explored further.) Are the fans who yell racist insults at him really racist, or are they passionate fans who are trying to disrupt an opposing player in whatever way possible? Is there a difference? Is that an excuse? When a commentator asks if there's "any chink in his armor," is that overtly racist? An unfortunate choice of words/slip of the tongue? An innocuous expression that doesn't mean everything and got an overblown reaction? When Jon Stewart holds up a fake (I think?) newspaper offering "Am-Asian!" as an alternative to "Linsanity" is it racist or is it mocking racism? These are all brought up quickly, and then even more quickly forgotten.
Consider these two stories:
1. A kid with a dream works hard to achieve it. He has talent, work ethic, and a strong faith. While he faces hurdles and times of tribulation, his faith guides him and keeps him on the right path even in his darkest moments. Eventually he succeeds, despite being seen as a big underdog.
B) A kid with a dream works hard to achieve it. On all sides, he faces prejudice because his dream is atypical for someone of his race. Through talent and hard work, he succeeds at every level, but he has to work harder just to get a chance, all while faced with horrible racist insults. Eventually he succeeds, despite being seen as a big underdog, but even his success is beset with more racist whispering about it.
Which would you rather see? That's an honest question. No doubt I'd rather see the latter, but I'm sure many people would prefer the first. Judging by the audience reaction, nearly all of them last night liked it. Heck, I liked it, and I ended up liking Jeremy Lin as a person a whole lot more. I just can't shake the feeling that it's kind of like telling the Jackie Robinson story but glossing over the whole crossing-the-color-line and focusing instead on how much he prayed.
Running Time: 88 minutes
My Total Minutes: 321,224