With NBA hopes dancing in his head and his brother’s murder haunting his family, high school hoops phenom Nick Young becomes the iconographic figure for an entire generation of struggling young men in Daniel H. Forer’s thoughtful doc, “Second Chance Season.” Though not in the class of “Hoop Dreams,” pic stands on its own as a solid piece of filmmaking that accepts its subjects for who they are, and reaffirms that true sports stardom is nothing without maturity, emotional grounding and a decent SAT score. Consider this a good lottery pick in distrib draft rounds, bolstered by some fest playoffs.
Even before he began filming in 2003, Forer had some catching up to do with the talented “swingman” (able to play guard and forward), who dropped out of high school after gang members in his class killed his older brother, Charles Jr. Coach Andre Chevalier and principal Al Weiner succeed in having Young readmitted to Cleveland High; it’s up to auds to ponder whether a less athletically gifted black student may have been as fortunate.
The undisputed star of his basketball team, Young is a lowly special-ed student. Pic revealsthe considerable emotional baggage the lad has to carry — not only the possibly inflated expectations of his mother, Mae, that he’s headed to the pros, but also the burden of Charles Jr.’s lossand the sense that his success is the family’s last best hope. The additional heat of a docu filmmaker’s camera tracking the kid everywhere surely didn’t ease matters.
All of which makes Young’s general equanimity the single most astonishing thing about “Second Chance Season.”
Mae and husband Charles Sr. (the more realistic of the pair) granted Forer extraordinary access to their lives — including Thanksgiving dinners, stressful searches for their missing, mentally disturbed older son John, high-pressure visits from USC’s recruiting brass — with the result that the family effectively became a collaborator with Forer on the film. Without such access, pic would have only a fraction of its impact.
As Young’s team progresses through a strong season, culminating in two key games with longtime rival Taft High (led by a future L.A. Laker and friend of Young’s, Jordan Farmar), he also faces the harsh reality in his senior year that he won’t graduate without at least a 2.5 GPA and an SAT score in the low 800s. Terrific game coverage shows Young’s effortless performance on the court, but the footage of his efforts to get through his SAT is where the real competitive drama lies. It also raises the question of whether Forer’s presence was a bit more than even this pretty cool-headed kid could take.
Forer’s film achieves even greater depth with the emergence of Charles Jr.’s convicted killer — Marcus G., now 30 and openly remorseful — which gives the title a double meaning and foregrounds issues of forgiveness and the ability of ex-cons to truly reform.
Hoops fans will already know Young’s outcome after high school, but for everyone else, doc’s final stretch will easily match that of “Hoop Dreams” for dramatic and emotional impact. Clips over closing credits, added just a day before pic’s final screening at the Los Angeles fest, bring the story up to date with unexpected immediacy.
Forer’s mini-DV camera has a tendency to frame his subjects at a tilt, a formalist quirk that’s rarely noticeable given the tension of the proceedings. Editor Jeff Werner keeps the story strands clear and compact.