Directed by Evan Jackson Leong. Starring Jeremy Lin.
I’ll admit to being a little puzzled when my editor offered the chance to review a movie whose title suggests nothing more engrossing or substantial than the latest workout craze. It was only after a quick Google search that I remembered the meaning of “Linsanity” — that neologism promoted by sports writers and anchors to describe the crush of fan and media attention they helped to create for NBA player Jeremy Lin.
Lin, whose cult-hero status reached its apex during a couple of months playing for the New York Knicks in 2012, is the focus of this documentary. Though a star player in high school, he wasn't recruited by Division 1 schools in the NCAA, and wasn't drafted to the NBA coming out of Harvard.
Yes, out of Harvard. For all the movie's hard-luck posturing — Lin's stints in the D-league, being cut by two other teams — Lin got to attend Harvard.
Mom, dad, siblings, coaches — all take turns in front of the camera to praise Lin for being strong-willed and determined. But despite these appearances, we are no closer to being enthralled by the subject. Lin is least helpful in this aspect. He isn’t interesting, and he compounds his dullness by speaking in a lazy mumble where, at his most expressive, he relies on the phrase "I was like" to convey his thoughts at at a given time. While he has the distinction of being that rare Chinese-American player to find success in the NBA, and became the first Harvard player on an NBA team in over 60 years, his path can hardly be called more difficult than that traveled by any number of other NBA players who are surely more deserving of a documentary.
The film, which was conceived before Lin's breakout success, is less a biography than a marketing push — a testimony to the alchemy that results from the intersection of pop culture's appetite for easily digested human interest stories and the quest to cash-in big. Obviously staged moments are filmed and presented as if they're candid. Here's Jeremy Lin eating a burger. Here's Jeremy Lin having to crash on a friend's couch, poor guy. Not only are these moments without any appeal, the movie itself looks ugly and cheap, including the present-day interviews and compendium of home movies and archival footage of high school games.
The Linsanity title artwork we see at the opening credits makes the “t” look unmistakably like a Christian cross. The meaning soon becomes clear.
“I know God orchestrated this for me,” Lin says of his place in the NBA. During a basketball camp for kids, Lin tells them about God’s plan for their lives. Lin's relationship to his religion ends up being one of the troubling aspects of the film. In talking about his faith, he is able to neatly explain away every experience, good or bad. If you get what you want, it was part of the plan. If you don’t get what you want — having to attend Harvard, for instance — that’s also part of the plan. Along the way, we're told about the racism Lin says he endured, without once suggesting any awareness he may have gained about the racism and stereotyping suffered by his predominantly black teammates.
At just 85 minutes, Linsanity comes and goes like its subject, perhaps in that respect a worthy representation of a blip on pop culture's radar.