Review: ‘Linsanity: The Movie’

Apr. 12, 2013 | 0 Comments

REVIEW BY JASON GENEGABUS / jason@staradvertiser.com

There are lots of reasons to root for “Linsanity: The Movie,” a documentary about the rise of Asian-American NBA star Jeremy Lin that enjoyed a sold-out screening at Dole Cannery as the featured closing night film for the Hawaii International Film Festival’s 2013 Spring Showcase.

The most obvious, of course, is Lin’s underdog tale of fighting through racial prejudice and an inherently difficult path from college to professional basketball.

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‘Linsanity: The Movie’

Not Rated

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The movie itself is also a success story for those who believe in the power of crowd-funding websites like Kickstarter.com, where “Linsanity” raked in $167,916 in donations — or nearly 150 percent of its goal — when fundraising ended in February.

Add the involvement of “Hawaii Five-0″ cast members Daniel Dae Kim (who narrates the film) and Brian Yang (who co-produced the movie with Christopher Chen and Allen Lu) to the mix and it’s even easier to see why “Linsanity” has such broad appeal with moviegoers.

Between interview footage with Lin himself and Kim’s narration, the themes of faith, perseverance and opportunity are repeatedly referenced throughout the 88-minute film. Lin makes no secret about his religious beliefs — take a closer look at the “T” in “Linsanity” when the opening credits play — describing his recent success as “just miraculous” and that “God orchestrated this whole thing.”

The “whole thing” starts in Palo Alto, where Lin grew up the child of Taiwanese immigrants who would rather see their son excel at piano instead of sports. But with a father who was obsessed with the NBA and spent his first five years in the U.S. learning how to play basketball, it was no surprise Lin and his brothers fell in love with the game as well.

Grainy VHS game tapes from Lin’s teen years show a boy with a pretty good jump shot in desperate need of a growth spurt; once he gets to high school, we see a confident young man who struggles to keep his ego in check and learns the hard way how to deal with adversity after suffering a broken ankle in a pickup game at the YMCA.

Playing at the college level introduces a different kind of challenge for Lin, who ends up at Harvard after being passed over by other NCAA Div. 1 schools. Despite it being the 21st century, students from opposing Ivy League schools would hurl racial epithets at him during games.

Jeremy Lin makes his way towards the entrance of Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Courtesy photo)

Jeremy Lin makes his way towards the entrance of Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Courtesy photo)

Lin’s reaction?

“Dude. What’s going on?”

His reaction wasn’t much different four years later, when Lin entered the 2010 NBA draft and was passed over completely. Once he got a call from the Dallas Mavericks asking him to report to the NBA’s summer league, however, it was game on all over again. That opportunity, along with an owner of the Golden State Warriors (whose son played alongside Lin as a youth) imploring his staff to sign the rookie point guard was all Lin needed to become the first Asian-American NBA player in the modern era.

For even the most casual of sports fans, the rest, as they say, is history. Since “Linsanity” the documentary was in the works long before Linsanity the phenomenon caught hold, cameras were in place from the moment Lin signed with the New York Knicks up to his breakout performance against the New Jersey Nets in Feb. 2012.

Scoring 89 points in his first three games — the most since the ABA and NBA merged — causes people to sit up and pay attention to the player who went from “no name to absolute phenomenon in two weeks.” By his eighth start, archival ESPN footage shows analysts lauding him as “among the best in the business” and that “he knows how to play and he’s not afraid.”

In his first nine games, Lin averages 9.9 assists, 2.2 steals and 25 points per game — something never before accomplished by a NBA rookie, Asian-American or not.

Jeremy Lin is wrapping up the 2013 NBA season with his new team, the Houston Rockets, and couldn't make it to Honolulu for the screening. Still, his presence was felt at a press conference at the Modern Honolulu on Thursday, April 11. (Star-Advertiser photo by Cindy Ellen Russell)

Jeremy Lin is wrapping up the 2013 NBA season with his new team, the Houston Rockets, and couldn’t make it to Honolulu for the screening. Still, his presence was felt at a press conference at the Modern Honolulu on Thursday, April 11. (Star-Advertiser photo by Cindy Ellen Russell)

But what makes “Linsanity” more than just another highlight reel for a rising pro basketball superstar with an international fan base is the exposure we get to Lin’s true personality. Want to see Lin drain three-pointers and speak in perfectly parsed sound bites? It’s still basketball season. Go turn on “Sportscenter.”

If watching Lin curl up under a “Lion King” blanket while openly admitting he also owns “Garfield” and “Sesame Street” bedding intrigues you, or you wonder what he sounds like crooning the karaoke version of “A Whole New World” (which he can also play on piano), don’t miss this movie. Hawaii’s large Asian population will have no problems identifying with the Lin family, although some who have never spent time on the mainland may underestimate how divisive the issues of race and racism actually are.

Still, watching this movie only serves to underscore the fact that Lin is just a kid — albeit a very rich kid with a new deal worth $25 million over three seasons — with plenty of basketball left in him.

Along with those looking for an inside glimpse into the mind of a professional basketball player, “Linsanity” is great for younger audiences who need inspiration and/or direction in life. And with reports circulating that a national distribution deal is imminent, there’s a good chance the film will return to Honolulu theaters again in 2013.
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Jason Genegabus is Entertainment Editor/Online at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and has covered the local nightlife, music, bar and entertainment scenes since 2001. Contact him via email at jason@staradvertiser.com.

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