When you sit down to watch a documentary like Apple TV+ and A24’s Stephen Curry: Underrated, you always wonder what viewpoint it will provide. There are several writings on renowned individuals that mainly seek to extol their virtues. By doing so, they may smooth over whatever difficulties they may have had and concentrate exclusively on the triumphs that would have made them a person worthy of a documentary in the first place.
Even in the best-case scenario, they might seem like simply shallow glimpses into a person’s life and personality, with no deeper meaning beyond the picture they are comfortable projecting. The worst thing that can happen when a documentary is granted access to a subject in order to interview them, their family, and their friends is that it begins to seem like a thinly disguised public relations documentary seeking to promote its brand.
What distinguishes this newest documentary from filmmaker Peter Nicks is the time it takes to sit with the failures and go a little further. Even regular interviews with talking heads—a form mainstay that may easily become excessively congratulatory—offer something more genuine. While it might become caught in the past without providing much insight into the present, there is a lot to like about the emphasis it gives to the content.
For all of the ways it will mainly appeal to people who have previously followed Curry, there is something extra it provides to those who are unfamiliar with the player. Even if you’re not a fan of him since he defeated your favorite team, there may be something you like about knowing more about him. It avoids the trap of attempting to cover everything and depicts how crucial events in Curry’s life continue to impact his profession by following his early years of basketball through college that correlates with the present.
This manifests mostly in the form of his going missing repeatedly. Curry struggled to get into a rhythm in many of his early games at Davidson College and made a lot of mistakes as compared to the long threes he is renowned for today. There is also a scene in which his coaches are quizzed about how they pondered benching him. Nicks left that possibility hanging, leaving us to ponder whether it would have been the end right then and there.
While we all know that wasn’t the case, the fact that the film doesn’t shy away from Curry’s early troubles demonstrates how they may have kept us from ever understanding who he was. The video then draws obvious similarities between when he was vying for the title in college and when he went on to win in the NBA. Nicks illustrates how the two points in time are not all that different by abandoning a typical chronological chronology that might begin to seem like a Wikipedia page in documentary form.
While the stage is larger, the game is the same, and the way we see Curry playing now is certainly an echo of how he was developing his talents when he was younger. This takes the shape of a series of cuts that act as a link between these two timeframes. The gestures he makes and the shots he takes are blended together, giving the impression that he is still the same youngster from all those years ago.
They’re nearly mirror reflections of one other, and the way they end up mirroring each other is a brilliant piece of cinematography. For all of the ways it develops information via interview guests who discuss Curry with refreshing candor, the most fascinating bits come from a well-timed cut between two instances. It assures that they are eternally linked in our memories, even if they are several years apart.
This theme is touched upon as we see him attempting to complete the coursework required for his degree after leaving college to pursue the NBA before he was able to do so. When Curry speaks about playing hard basketball games in college and then having to spend time going to class, he could just as well be referring to himself now. There is a definite difference in that he now undergoes a hard training with individuals who are solely committed to him, but the emotions that underlay it all in his day-to-day existence remain familiar. The competitiveness and motivation stay roughly the same after you reach a certain level.
When the documentary jumps straight into Curry leading his college team on a run to the playoffs, it seems that much of this connection to the present is gone. We get information about the games, such as how they had to come from behind many times, which keeps it from being simply a highlight reel by establishing how big of a fight each game was.
Perhaps this is why Nicks generally ignores how the Warriors won in 2022 since it was never as tight for Curry after he took over the series. There are still certain cuts that connect the two sections of his life in interesting ways, but the feeling of concentration on the present seems pasted on at the end when it should have been filled out further.
By no means does this spell the end of the documentary? Rather, it lowers it a notch because it seems that there was a little too much attention on the past, and we lost sight of some of the other potentially intriguing features of the present.
Thankfully, despite some stumbles, Nicks has produced something unique with his newest, ensuring it advances beyond basic documentary mythmaking and into something more nuanced as a character study of Curry and the path he followed to become one of the best basketball players of all time.
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