Friday, August 13, 2010

Review: We Believe

It's been a miserable season for the Chicago Cubs, and it was a struggle to put in "We Believe" at this point of the season. But as it played out, I thought what better time to renew the optimism?

Directed by John Scheinfeld, the documentary surrounds the 2008 Cubs as they play in their 100th season without having won a World Series.

I love how the film starts, with the neighborhoods of Chicago waking up, intercut with shots of Wrigley Field in the morning -- newspaper deliverymen, a lone jogger along Lake Michigan, restaurants preparing breakfast and people commuting to work -- and then it all coming together for Opening Day. Metaphors galore!

The film isn't a single-layered story about the Cubs and their overemotional fans. Scheinfeld weaves together a rich history of the city of Chicago, the Cubs' history, the 2008 season, stories of fans and capsules of players, creating the backdrop for the unique setting in which the Cubs play.

In doing so, there are moments where some of the stories about Chicago and the Cubs are rehashed versions that we already know, and sometimes it feels as if the film is all over the place, trying to cram all the story angles in. But, for me, it's the heart of the movie that prevails here.

I hope people who are not fans of the team don't see this film as simply a marketing ploy or a Chamber of Commerce video for the city, because that's not the case. Scheinfeld said he did not set out to do a film about the Cubs, but about the relationship between a city and its team, which I think any fan of baseball can relate to.

There are a handful of Cubs greats that share their insight, but since it isn't a history of the Cubs, not every notable figure is featured, like Harry Caray for instance -- although Ryan Dempster's strong impression of Harry saying, "How can he be Puerto Rican and lose the ball in the sun, I just don't get it!" is hysterical.

But while Scheinfeld utilizes this global notion of a fan base identifying with its team, this film obviously has a distinct Chicago flavor. As celebrities, city officials, members of the team and the average fan discuss the Cubs and their long history, there are scenes and reflections of taking the train to Wrigley, waiting in line on the streets in a cold rain for the gates to open on Opening Day, skipping school/work to go to the game, and feeling 1930's Chicago by walking the neighborhood around the park that fully capture the feeling of living there -- and, for me, provide quite a dose of nostalgia.

There were some pretty big moments in that National League-best 97-win season the Cubs had, and I remember feeling that they had to be destined to do it that year.

Wrigley rejoices after the May 2008 comeback against the Rockies.
The film touches on Carlos Zambrano's no-hitter, the seven players they sent to the All-Star Game and, one I can personally relate to, the incredible late-game comeback the Cubs made against the Rockies in May. Down 9-1 early, they scored six runs in the seventh inning, capped by Mark DeRosa's go-ahead home run that won it. I was at that game with a group of friends, including my pal Burke (check out his film blog here), who was visiting Wrigley for the first time. After the sheer mania died down and people finally started for the exits after lingering to celebrate, I looked at him and said, "Well, that's the best I could do for your first Cubs game ..."

That game, that season was yet another representation of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows that Cubs fans seemingly go through on a yearly basis, and this documentary captures this feeling. One minute they seem destined to finally do it, and the next minute they are systematically swept in the NLDS for a second consecutive year.

But in the face of that, the film closes on that perpetual note of loyalty and optimism -- with the perfection of Bruce Springsteen's "Land of Hope and Dreams" playing in the background -- as Cubs fans (again) renew their hope for the future, mirroring the sense of a new dawn that this film opened with.

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