Friends. I've got your next movie and Netflix binge all figured out for you. You can thank me later ;)
Wait until you have six uninterrupted hours to go nuts on "Last Chance U," a new documentary series Netflix released at the end of July. I started it on the treadmill on my iPad, but quickly realized that the show actually demanded uninterrupted focus and pounded through it in about two days.
The series chronicles the adventures (and misadventures) of the East Mississippi Community College "JUCO" football team, which, as of filming, had won four straight junior college national football championships. EMCC serves as a stopping place for students facing disciplinary suspensions from D1 schools, or those with grades too poor to qualify for NCAA play. Under the leadership of coach Buddy Stephens, EMCC's team has become the stuff of legend for putting up massive point margins on their opponents...and for getting their alums into D1 starter positions and, eventually the NFL.
The series immediately captured me with its stunning camera work - the filming of the football practices and games feels almost cinematic or scripted with the genuine gorgeousness of its shots and pacing, all overlaid with a dramatically varied gospel-and-rap soundtrack. I fell hard, however, once I really got into the stories the show portrayed with such restraint and poignancy...academic counselor Brittany Wagner, for example, who guides her struggling students so passionately through a semester of school and football despite the thanklessness of the task.
Or Ronald Ollie, an EMCC defensive tackle with a traumatic past and fear of rejection. Egotistical quarterback John Franklin III, who dropped out of FSU in a fit of pique after not enough playing time and battled patient workhorse and local boy Wyatt Roberts for the starting QB spot. It's hard not to get emotionally invested in a show that handles so many storylines so well...I dare you not to marathon the last two episodes (I did, as did Hal). Best of all? It's already been renewed for a second season.
If committing to the six-hour, six-episode series is too much, take in "Don't Think Twice" at your closest indie cinema instead...you won't regret it. Hal and I had a movie night date at the Uptown Lagoon theater last Saturday night - we split a large popcorn and way too much Diet Coke, the whole nine yards, total roommate adorableness. Though he had wanted to see the movie, it took us both by surprise with how sheerly delightful it was.
A riff on Second City and Saturday Night Live, "Don't Think Twice" follows six improv actors trying to make it in New York City. Their nightly standup act, "The Commune," has launched the careers of numerous stars on "Weekend Live," the SNL parallel. When "Weekend Live" producers come calling, their change to make their break arrives and watching them simultaneously unravel and turn on each other becomes the heart of a comedic drama that left me both laughing and holding my breath.
The cast is fantastic - starring Mike Birbiglia and Keegan-Michael Key of Key and Peele, among others, their collective comedic chops continuously brought laughs. The script, however, which was written in part by Ira Glass, contains moments of shocking pathos and heartbreak. It doesn't feel overwrought or too try-hard, but at the same time the actors deliver such tight, focused performances that what's meant to hit home, does...and then some.
One line in particular punched both Hal and me in the gut: "Your 20s are all about hope. And your 30s are all about how dumb it was to hope." We left the theater in awe and still laughing, but both commented on how that line resonated with us. It...the entire movie, really...became the springboard for a fantastic discussion on our own lives, hopes, and doubts that carried us all the way home and into our living room.
Between "Disgraced" last Thursday, "Last Chance U," and "Don't Think Twice," Hal and I have had more than a few of those great, deep conversations lately. The more I think about it, the more I like to think that there's a difference between watching and seeing. While it's so easy to be all "Netflix and chill" or to passively observe something, it's an entirely different experience to let a show, play, or movie get in under the skin a little bit...or a lot. It's even more different to share those watching experiences with someone who's also really willing to engage with the subject matter and actually dig into it together afterward. I'm getting so much out of what I'm watching, and taking the time to really see and think about all of it has been rewarding and galvanizing and inspiring.