The following review contains spoilers.
Lil Rel teams up with basketball star Kyrie Irving in Uncle Drew, the new movie about camaraderie, intergenerational relationships, and growth. Dax (Lil Rel) is an orphan who, after a traumatic experience on the court, tries to regain love and validation by coaching the winning team on the 50th anniversary of the Rucker Park streetball tournaments. After losing his initial team and its star player Casper (Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic), being dumped by girlfriend, and put on the streets, Dax encounters old head, Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving). The pair then embark on a journey to bring the crew out of retirement for a chance of reconciliation through playing one last game.
While this film is a traditional comedy, it’s about more than laughing at old men pushing through their physical ailments to get buckets. Instead, it’s about how by working together, each character is able to overcome their numerous issues, or rather process them. Some overcame their loneliness through reconnecting. Others reignited their passion by engaging in the activities they enjoyed as a youth. And a few even improved their health, regaining their vision through the help of new glasses and their ability to walk by putting on their old sneakers. At times their progress seemed implausible, but it was forgivable considering that the movie is a comedy intended to make you laugh and feel good.
In addition to personal triumphs, relationships were both reconciled and created. Through the process of getting a team together, the players, Coach Dax, and granddaughter Maya (Erica Ash) bond and become family. Dax, who grew up an orphan, finds kinship with his new team. Uncle Drew finally apologizes to Big Fella (Shaq) for violating his trust many years ago. Dax and Maya connect to the older gentleman and Betty Lou (Lisa Leslie) through finding commonalities in the human experience – another important theme in the movie. The characters get to know each other by taking the time to learn one another beyond the rough exteriors. In looking beyond the rough interactions, they are able to understand that at the heart of the matter, the offending person is dealing with their own issues that often have nothing to do with the offended. Once they reach this space, they are able to speak to the person’s wounds and help usher them into their healing. Uncle Drew gets Dax to confess to his deepest pain, and in doing so, he is able to help him build the confidence to to tackle his fears head on. This willingness to work through conflict results in a mutual respect that spans the generation gap.
Another element they use to connect the youngbloods and old heads is the fact that they root it in the history of the legendary Rucker park and the larger Harlem community. In the opening scenes, they include actual Rucker park legends, providing commentary on the basketball acumen of Uncle Drew. I also appreciate the way they connect the history of the Rucker and the role it plays in the Harlem community. By the inclusion of the forefathers of the Rucker with that of the NBA players as aged streetballers, the film pays homage to the spaces that homegrow their own talented stars. They also use sports as a bridge to connect generations.
Although it was fun to see all these young guys act as old men, my personal favorite was Preacher, played by Chris Webber. I particularly liked how he graveled his voice and hunched his shoulders. With his body and his rhythmic way of speaking, he really felt like an old black preacher. Reggie Miller’s portrayal of Lights, an easy going old dude who unexpectedly breaks out in little dances, communicated a familiarity that kept me chuckling. Overall, this was the first time that the majority of these basketball stars had significant acting roles. And while they were not necessarily Oscar worthy performances, you could really tell they had a good time filming, and that resonated with me as the audience. Unfortunately, for me, Tiffany Haddish’s role as Jess, Dax’s gold digging girlfriend, fell flat for me. Haddish’s continuous typecasting as the ratchet girl is making it difficult to find the humor in her performance.
I left this movie with a desire to get into basketball. I am not always impressed with what I see on the court, but I am invested when I understand some aspect of the lives and stories that the players bring with them to the court. This movie has inspired to me try following the next season of basketball, as players are people.