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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this documentary includes images of high school basketballers devoted to becoming a nationally ranked team: The girls are occasionally roughed up on the court and rebellious against their hard-driving coach. One girl reveals she was sexually abused by an individual coach (and she comes back to help her original coach work with younger players); another becomes pregnant and misses a season, returning as a single mother. Some cursing (including an f-word and s-word).
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What's the story?
THE HEART OF THE GAME follows the Rough Riders, a Seattle high school girls' basketball team led by the unlikely tax-professor-turned coach Bill Resler. Resler's unique and effective coaching style (which includes encouraging the girls to think of their opponents as prey), inspires the girls to work hard and excel. With Resler's help, the team looks towards the state championship. The documentary finds its shape in following star player Darnellia Russell's compelling story: As she matures, she learns to cope with competing demands on her time. Even when she faces what seems a career-stopping event -- pregnancy -- she has her baby, learns to rely on her family and her baby's young, devoted father, and comes back. Her teammates rally behind her when the WIAA (Washington Interscholastic Activities Association) rules that she cannot return to play, because she's now in her fifth year in high school. Even as local media create a swirl of controversy, her lawyer argues the ruling discriminates against girls. While Bill Resler and Darnellia are plainly inspirations -- for one another as well as the team -- the movie also keeps sight of the multiple lives intertwining throughout this process, with attention to opposing teams and Darnellia's family members.
Is it any good?
Heart of the Team is an intelligent, challenging, and entertaining documentary that's been compared to Hoop Dreams, probably the best sports documentary ever. But Heart also does some important work that film does not, namely, it considers issues specific to girls, including a sexually abusive coach one girl hires to improve her personal game and the subtle and unsubtle ways that misogyny still shapes expectations of women athletes and girls with ambitions.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the ways that Darnellia matures over the course of the film, transitioning form rebellious adolescent to responsible teammate. How does her coach describe these changes, as he encourages her to believe in herself? How does Darnellia come to depend on her family and teammates in order to become a great player?
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