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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that High Flying Bird is a movie about the powerful business interests that control professional sports and the lives of the players who toil there. Told from the perspective of a sports agent during a fictional NBA lockout, director Steven Soderbergh, shooting the film entirely on an iPhone in just three weeks, has delivered a savvy take on both the machinations and exploitation that go on behind the scenes of one of our nation's most beloved games. With the exception of interviews with three young players (Reggie Jackson, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Donovan Mitchell) from the NBA, and some casual maneuvers on a community court, there's no basketball on screen. It's the business that's front and center here, along with the complex personalities who work it and work for it. Occasional swearing and profanity includes "f--k, "s--t," "d--k," "ass," and "hell." A couple is seen undressing after an implied sexual liaison, and that encounter is talked about afterwards. Okay for mature teens.
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What's the story?
An NBA lockout is underway in HIGH FLYING BIRD. Sports agent Ray Burke (Andre Holland) is at the center of the ongoing turmoil. He works for a primo sports agency. His boss (Zachary Quinto) is ineffective and punishing Ray in frustration. His newest high-profile client, Erick (Melvin Gregg), is scared and making some big mistakes as he fights for the career he hasn't even started. His now "ex" assistant Sam (Zazie Betts) is looking out for herself despite her gratitude to Ray. The ranking NBA owner (Kyle MacLachlan) and the players' union rep (Sonja Sohn) are in a stand-off. And his friend and mentor Spence (Bill Duke) is cautioning Ray about the insidiousness of black exploitation at the heart of the professional sports world. Negotiating the escalating chaos and the competing personal loyalties is almost more than he can handle. But Ray, who always seems to maneuver around whatever comes his way, even when his corporate credit card is declined, hasn't revealed his most lethal mid-court shot. He's saving that for less than a second before the buzzer.
Is it any good?
Spot-on, penetrating performances, insightful themes, and a vivid but unpretentious production overcome some minor deficiencies in this "basketball" drama that isn't about sports at all. High Flying Bird is what folks call a "talky" movie, this one is built on events driven by the character of the competing teams' players. And the filmmakers have a lot to say. Working from a script by playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, Soderbergh and company tackle money, race, and the current unrest that dominates many elements of today's culture. There's a plot element that's meant to help define the hero's passion, but it's never really paid off. It doesn't matter so much because Ray's actions are more than motivated by current circumstances and the people who surround him. Netflix, with its wide audience base, is a good home for this film. Lots of people who like stories with bite and complexity will have a chance to see it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the depiction of women in High Flying Bird. How do the central figures of Samantha (Sam), Myra, and Jamero's mom knock down female stereotypes? What character strengths do they exhibit that make them effective?
In the movie, Spence says, "You care all the way, or you don't care at all." What does he mean? Can you apply the notion to something that matters to you?
Find out the meaning of the word "metaphor." In what ways are the events in this film meant to serve as a metaphor for aspects of our society other than sports? What other institutions exploit (or may be tempted to exploit) talented, hard-working folks?
This movie was shown at the 2018 Slamdance Film Festival. Find out more about Slamdance and the kind of movies it showcases.
- On DVD or streaming: February 8, 2019
- Cast: Andre Holland, Zazie Betts, Melvin Gregg, Bill Duke
- Director: Steven Soderbergh
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts, History
- Character Strengths: Communication, Courage, Perseverance
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: September 19, 2019
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