Title: Losing LeBron
Directors: Nicole Prowell Hart, Allyson Sherlock
Arriving in the middle of the NBA playoffs, just as its subject tries to put the finishing touches on a championship three-peat, documentary “Losing LeBron” chronicles the gut-punch impact of native son LeBron James’ decision to depart the Cleveland Cavaliers via free agency in 2010. Clocking in at just under 60 minutes, this cinematic apéritif is a moderately engaging if also somewhat incomplete emotional survey of a city’s psychological health.
Co-directors Nicole Prowell Hart and Allyson Sherlock seem only tangentially interested in basketball, which is both a benefit and drawback for this movie. They stock their film with a number of “average Joe” interviewees, like despondent season ticket holders Mike Brenkus and Candice Vlcek, as well as single father Tyrone Shavers and his teenage son Zachary — the latter complete with a chirping smoke detector in the background of their home, part of the unofficially recognized soundtrack of urban malaise. These folks are meant to be representational of the flickering if not quite fully extinguished hope of this once-proud city. And they are, to a large degree.
But Hart and Sherlock overstay their welcome with them, when the insights of other subjects — like talk radio host Les Levine; “Esquire” writer Scott Raab, who went from blogging about James’ departure during his final year in Cleveland to a book deal in a matter of two weeks; and even Cleveland-born comedian Mike Polk, whose withering mock-tourism video for the city went viral several years back — are much more interesting. A different focus (paradoxically either tighter or broader) might have produced sharper results; “Losing LeBron” dawdles at times, which is both problematic and puzzling, given all the analysis its 29-year-old subject has already inspired.
The best parts of the film explore the nature of James’ departure in relation to Cleveland’s tortured sports history, which has a five-decade championship drought. Going to another team with a better chance of winning was one thing. But when James announced to Jim Gray that he was “taking [his] talents to South Beach” on “The Decision,” a televised ESPN special, many in the city were exponentially offended since it seemed to purposefully echo a litany of articlized humiliations well known to the Ohio-born-and-bred James — “The Drive” (John Elway’s 99-yard game-winning drive over the Browns in 1987), “The Fumble” (Ernest Byner’s goal-line turnover the following year), “The Shot” (Michael Jordan’s series-ending jumper over the Cavaliers’ Craig Ehlo in 1989) and even “The Move” (owner Art Modell moving the beloved Browns to Baltimore).
Provocatively but not without correlation, “Losing LeBron” links how coming to expect the worst in sports trickles down to a baseline expectation of failure in relationships and work. But it does so in half-measures, and other elements are handled in a lazy and incomplete manner. (It’s more than halfway into the movie, for instance, before viewers learn that money raised from “The Decision” helped benefit a refurbished Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland, but even then the full extent of this charitable endeavor isn’t illuminated.) “Losing LeBron” begs a bit more hard-edged social inquiry than this meandering soft-focus offering, which primes the pump of sports narrative obsessives, but leaves discerning viewers wanting a bit more.
NOTE: “Losing LeBron” is available on iTunes, Amazon, Google/YouTube, PlayStation, Vudu and Xbox on May 20. For more information, visit the film’s eponymous Facebook page.
Written by: Brent Simon