*** (three stars)
It’s been almost a year since it began, but “Linsanity” lives on.
In the midst of Sundance’s world premiere of the documentary about basketball phenom Jeremy Lin, there’s footage of a February 2012 game between New York and Toronto. When Lin hits a three-pointer with 0.5 seconds remaining to win the game for the Knicks, the film festival audience broke into applause and cheers.
This is a story that is so Hollywood, if it weren’t true it would be laughed out of theaters. And filmmaker Evan Jackson Leong has made a very good documentary about a great story.
Great stories, as a matter of fact.
It’s a story of an underdog who makes good. A story of racism. A story of faith. A story of a down-to-his-last-chance basketball player who — after years of struggles — became an overnight sensation. And not just in the America, but around the world.
And, more than anything, the story of a nice guy who becomes a hero. The stories about him sleeping on the couch in somebody else’s apartment when he became a media superstar are true.
When Lin buys a $10 tabletop water fountain at a discount store, takes it home, sets it up and is delighted when it works, it’s unbelievably charming. As are the moments when he’s wrapped in a “Lion King” comforter or singing a song from “Aladdin.”
There are darker moments. Unbelievably racist things being said to him. Racial taunts are chanted by fans at Ivy League schools when Lin played for Harvard. To all appearances, he wasn’t given chances other players would have gotten because the assumption was that Asians aren’t good basketball players. “I’ve always said, if I was black, I would have gotten a Division 1 scholarship,” Lin says in the film.
And, although he said it in an interview before he became a sensation, he didn’t say it with bitterness.
Leong’s documentary is a skillful mix of interviews, home movies, NBA film and candid moments. He hits on the issues of racism and Lin’s religious faith, but he doesn’t hit you over the head with them.
And how do you not love a movie in which Kobe Bryant is the villain? The Lakers star repeatedly told the press he’d never heard of Lin well after Linsanity began — until Lin helped the Knicks beat the Lakers.
In the documentary, Lin says he knew he’d be asked about that after the game. And he admits he planned to say, “Who the hell is Kobe Bryant?”
But then he thought — What would Jesus do? “And Jesus probably wouldn’t say that.”
This is the feel-good movie of the festival. And the fact that it’s a real story is the most unbelievable thing about “Linsanity.”
—Scott D. Pierce
“Linsanity” screens Tuesday, Jan. 22, 8:30 a.m. Library Center Theatre, Park City; Saturday, Jan. 26, 6 p.m., Temple Theatre, Park City; and Sunday Jan. 27, 6:30 p.m. Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, Salt Lake City.