A Movie That Is, Unfortunately, All Wet

There is no paucity of rags-to-riches losers-to-winners sports movies, and for some reason the last few years have produced more than their share. Inherent to the genre is the problem of investment and believability—does the film offer us credible, sympathetic characters and manufacture at least the impression of dramatic and competitive tension? It all comes down to whether or not the filmmaker can somehow present the story in a way that makes us feel like we don’t know the outcome, even though we do, and all too often either the director or the story—or both—can’t hold up to the challenge.

You know where I’m going with this… Pride fails miserably in both direction and plot, which is rather unfortunate considering that the real-life story behind it is probably at least somewhat interesting (a trait the movie fails to express).

Howard as Jim Ellis in PrideThe film takes place in 1970s-era Philadelphia. A well-educated African American teacher, Jim Ellis, is repeatedly turned down for work for reasons not-so-subtly based on his race. He finds a job preparing a former inner-city Boys and Girls Club for demolition, and in doing so fills up the pool to test the resilience of his record-setting swimming skills. After a few reluctant pick-up basketball players start hanging out in the pool, Ellis decides to try to put together a winning swim team and save the club.

See? You already know where it’s going, otherwise there wouldn’t be a story to tell. The problem is that director Sunu Gonera can’t keep his actors from telegraphing the entire movie from the very beginning. Terrence Howard, as Ellis, starts the revelatory ball rolling by tearing up within the first three minutes of the movie. Enough time hadn’t even passed to know whether this guy is the protagonist or not, and already we’re supposed to be welling up with sympathy? The emotion card as played far too early and far too much throughout the entire movie, and sadly, the most egregious offender is Howard. I’m all for emotionality in men (just ask my husband), but this seemed a lot more like manipulation and borderline personality disorder than heartfelt emotion.

Another significant annoyance is the incredible “similarity” (read: rip-off) of the plotline of Glory (yes, the 1989 Civil War movie). Racial issues, oppression, competition, the cynic, and even the undersized stutterer are all there, following the same path, just with less acting and more predictability. Unlike Glory, there isn’t a single scene in which I couldn’t guess not only the progression of the action, but sometimes even the words they were going to use. In all, it was wholly predictable and, to be blunt, incredibly boring. The target demographic audience I saw it with, however, did seem to enjoy the movie, though I couldn’t always tell whether they were laughing at it or with it.

Since the movie is based on the true story of Ellis and his team, perhaps a dry ol’ documentary—or even docudrama—would have been a better choice for telling his tale. Unfortunately, Pride just doesn’t provide any dramatic tension, in the pool or in the personal lives of the characters. It’s swimming upstream against the current of an already saturated sports drama market, and I’m guessing it will likely drown despite its efforts.

Pride is rated PG for “thematic material, language including some racial epithets, and violence.” The racial epithets in particular are worth noting—the story happens in the early ’70s, and the anything-but-subtle comments made my skin crawl. The violence, on the other hand, is just basic fistfighting and therefore pretty negligible.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jenn attended a promotional screening of Pride.