Parents' Guide to

Sweetwater

By Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 11+

Sports biopic is educational but clunky; smoking, language.

Movie PG-13 2023 114 minutes
Sweetwater Movie Poster: Sweetwater jumps in the air, holding a basketball beneath his upper knee

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This informative and insightful but uneven biographical drama follows the predictable storyline of how a pioneering Black athlete overcame multiple challenges for the chance to play. Writer-director Martin Guigui bookends the story with a maudlin framing device: A 60-something Sweetwater, working as a taxi driver in Chicago during the late-1980s era of the Michael Jordan-led Bulls, drives a sportswriter (Eric Etebari) to the airport, only to end up telling him his life story. That story fast-forwards quite a bit, skipping all but one scene of Sweetwater's childhood (the one that explains his nickname) and then focusing on his time with the Globetrotters, who were wrongfully considered entertainers rather than the talented, serious athletes they were. There are clichéd moments of overt racism, one in particular featuring Eric Roberts as a gun-wielding gas station owner who refuses to allow Sweetwater or even Abe to use his "lily-white pumps" but is amused enough when he learns they're basketball players to ask for an autograph.

The script can devolve into the overwrought (or downright cheesy), and a couple of scenes frankly defy credulity. It's difficult to believe that Sweetwater took over his first practice with the Knicks or gave platitude-laden speeches about how to play basketball. More interesting is the idea that he was responsible for getting the NBA to make certain throws worth three points rather than two. A somewhat unresolved subplot follows Sweetwater's interest in nightlife and, in particular, a White jazz singer named Jeanne Staples (Emmaline, a social media-famous singer), whom he introduces to his musician friend T-Bone (Grammy winner Gary Clark Jr.). The two understand each other as outsiders trying to make their way in a seemingly closed-off world, but it seems a false comparison, given that White entertainers were always allowed to appropriate Black culture. Still, the romance is fairly light, and it's unclear whether this ever really happened to the basketball player. His personal life isn't really explored, and even the final credits scene doesn't give much of an explanation of his life other than to confirm that he really did spend his post-NBA retirement as a taxi driver.

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