Sundance 2023: ‘Stephen Curry: Underrated’ & ‘Eileen’ Reviewed
Tomato-meter approved film critic Wael Khairy reviews two slam-dunk movies from Sundance’s 2023 Premiere Selection.
Stephen Curry: Underrated
At the end of the premiere of Peter Nicks’ Stephen Curry: Underrated, Steph Curry and the film’s crew received a rapturous standing ovation. The documentary is a compelling origin story of the Golden State Warrior who changed the game of basketball forever. Instead of focusing on his four championships, the film tackles how the 6’2” shooting guard had to overcome his size to reach new heights.
Most of the documentary covers his early years at Davidson where he developed the lethal high-arching shot that would later terrify an entire league. Everyone knows that the second anyone passes the ball to Curry, he becomes an undeniable threat, but he was not always able to shoot from anywhere on the floor with surgical precision. We all know him as the sharpshooter who makes it look so easy, but this is something he worked for in the gym for years.
In fact, this documentary shows a side of Curry we have never seen before. Most of the documentary focuses on his failures before shining the spotlight on his achievements. Expect to see a lot of threes that don’t go in, but when he finally does score buckets, it’s so much sweeter to watch. My initial thought was that Stephen Curry: Underrated would be his version of The Last Dance. The truth is, it has more in common with a Michael Jordan Nike ad where he declares, “Maybe I led you to believe that basketball was a God-given gift and not something I worked for, every single day of my life.” This film is fundamentally about all those times Curry picks the ball up after missing a shot. It’s about his perseverance, motivation and determination to propel his team to a championship level.
The editing of Stephen Curry: Underrated deserves special mention because it effortlessly links between his early struggles and his comeback season at the NBA. Both of these parallel storylines come together beautifully in an electrifying montage sequence. By the end of it, getting up on your feet and cheering him on will be very hard to resist.
Even though the game footage is absolutely thrilling, it’s the quieter moments of Steph at home that will have you emotionally invested. Most of these scenes show him studying to keep the promise he made to his mother that he would graduate from college - although his children distracting him from his study time provides plenty of comic relief. This A24 and Apple co-production reveals a rare peek into how Steph Curry became the baby-faced assassin that he is.
William Oldroyd’s Eileen is the type of film you would catch while channel surfing at 3 AM on a cold winter night in the good old days of subscription TV. A quirky crime caper with offbeat humour and a snowbound blue-collar suburban setting, Eileen is centred around a lonely young girl, Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie), who goes around town day-dreaming about sexual fantasies with security guards, blowing her brains out, and killing her ex-cop father.
Based on the novel of the same name by Otessa Moshfegh, Eileen takes place in the early 1960s. When Eileen, who works at a juvenile correctional facility for boys, meets Rebecca Saint Johnson (Anne Hathaway) her whole world turns upside down. The awkward small-town girl becomes completely transfixed by the elegant yet bold demeanour of Rebecca, a head-turning Harvard graduate who can throw a punch. Hathaway fits the part like a glove, effortlessly chewing through the scenery. It’s the type of role you would expect Cate Blanchett to take up, but Hathaway pulls it off with ease. The same can be said about Shea Whigham, in his nuanced performance as a drunk old man with razor-sharp punchlines. As for McKenzie, well, she carries the film from start to finish in a role she was born to play.
A coming-of-age tale gone terribly wrong, Eileen is full of weird side characters straight out of a Coen brother film. Almost every scene is populated with eccentric characters. That said, the deadpan comedy does take its sweet time in setting up its premise. In fact, the first act about the rhythms of small-town life drags on forever. And when things finally get going, the film ends in a very abrupt manner.
Part pitch-black comedy, part Hitchcockian thriller, Eileen counterbalances weirdness with suspense. Having previously directed Best (2013) and Lady MacBeth (2016), William Oldroyd has crafted yet another absurd gem destined to grow a cult following. I just wish the plot was a bit more fleshed out. It would have benefited a lot from an extended third act. Instead, all the charming weirdness comes to a screeching halt. I hope that when Eileen gets its nationwide release, we see a better version of this charismatic ensemble piece.
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