Shooting Stars is a filmic representation of the life of LeBron James based on the memoir of the same name he co-wrote. It tells the story of James, starting with a brief part of his childhood to the time in high school when, along with his other friends, he rose up the ladder of fame. Starting with a 4:3 aspect ratio and quickly introducing us to the “Fab 4”, as they called themselves, we are pulled into the lives of the four kids with a deep passion for playing basketball. Trained and raised by their coach, Dru Joyce II, who keeps telling them that it’s not important how the game is started but how it is finished, the kids live and breathe basketball. In this context of brotherhood and love for each other, the four grow up to become even better at the games, with James showing an extraordinary skillset that shocks everyone. In the most riveting and thought-provoking scene from the film, another coach in their high school speaks to Lil Dru, one of the Fab Four, in a poignant moment. He says that while he has been teaching them all that time to be better players, Dru’s father, their former coach, has, in fact, been teaching them to be better men, which would take them a long way. Now, the problem with the film is that it never actualizes the thought ripple created with this exchange of dialogue but rather meanders along through different perspectives and finally falls without a concise thought on what to base the film on.
There are so many things happening at the same time. While the film is supposed to be based on LeBron James and his formative years, its priorities are all mixed up. We don’t recognize that he is the protagonist for almost half the duration, and by then, the harm is already done. For the majority of the film, there seems to be no conflict in the story, with the team of four always winning matches and everything sorted out between their interpersonal relationships. There is nothing that reveals more about either of them, let alone James, outside the basketball court. Just giving him the maximum screen time will not suffice, as there is so little to root for on an emotional level. At one point, it appears to be a film on friendships and the nostalgia of it all; then it also seems to be speaking of James by focusing on him singularly in parts; then there is some development of an hostility hat seems to be growing among them, which suddenly vanishes within a scene after some locker room talk. There are also inferences given on the relationship of Dru Jr. with his father, with scenes where we see the look on Dru’s face as his father praises James on the phone. Then there is yet another thread of the love interest of James and their fallout in a scene, after which the girlfriend disappears for the entire film, only returning just for another 5 seconds in a later scene. Not stopping at that, the college coach has a backstory as well, which forms a twist in the story when things are going well. All these details affect the storyline in some way, but none of them manage to leave any impact, as they are all driving in different directions. Cumulatively, then, it leaves you with an uncertain feeling as you don’t know what to feel or whom to feel for.
All the narrative problems aside, the filmmaking is fairly sincere and still manages to leave an impact through an inconsistent screenplay. Some fair criticism has to be mounted towards the basketball scenes that are filmed in an extremely simplistic manner, with the only element adding some drama to them being the slow-motion shots. One expects better from a film that is all about basketball, for it to generate heat and excitement on the court through an interplay of filmmaking techniques. What ultimately saves the film, then, is the bonding between the four. It is a pleasure to watch them grow together, make fun of each other, and be there through all the ups and downs. As the film is not sure exactly what to focus on, you wish there were more such scenes where the four share moments of happiness. Performed sincerely by all the actors who play the boys, they leave you with some traces of sentimentality that keep the film afloat. Mookie Cook embodies the life of a teenager who shoots to fame suddenly in an authentic manner, portraying his part on the court and outside of it with the same rigor and honesty. As the film is about him (or is supposed to be about him but doesn’t quite live up to it), he gets some vulnerable scenes with his mother, which serve as an emotional pull that also leads the film to a bittersweet end.
Shooting Stars tries hard to work, but the level of excitement never reaches the potential that the story has. It seems to be shying away from looking under the surface and delving into emotional complexities. The kind of path it takes in the third act to arrive at the theme of the film appears to have been inserted more out of an obligation to say something than reflecting genuinely on the characters and the world they inhabit. It would have worked if there had been a concise identification of the conflict and some more space for an emotional connection with James. As a person who later went on to become the greatest basketball player of all time, there is already a fair bit of interest in his early life. However, with the problems in the narrative, his story doesn’t entice you as much. It is still a watchable film as the pacing is maintained, and you are left on the edge during the matches due to the nature of the sport. Apart from that, a lively soundtrack keeps things moving by making you connect with the characters. So, even though the film will not make you stay with the story for long after watching, it will surely lift your spirits.