Basketball is the one sport where personality shines through the most easily. There is no helmet or facemask. Any one player only has to share the court with nine others. The athleticism, the passion, and the smiles all come through. So one of the greatest challenges for any documentary filmmaker trying to create a biography of a professional basketball player is to confront what's already freely given.
Stephen Curry isn't one of the most famous athletes in the NBA, but he's also not a blank slate. View his entire resume, as well as interviews with his father and brother who are also NBA veterans, in this feature-length documentary on the Golden State Warriors.
The most powerful parts of "Underrated" from the mid-2000s are the small glimpses in between the games. (Anybody who attended Davidson College will appreciate this small piece of evidence).
There's nothing in the Wildcat runs that wouldn't be made in a well-produced, in-house NCAA special, and it's difficult to deny that Curry's career is being chronicled.
"Underrated" nods toward Dell and Sonya reworking his shot back in high school. The other main elements of Curry's career are the kinds of one-size-fits-all motivations that you could graft onto most professional athlete's origin stories.
Nicks gets to embody Curry as a well-adjusted phenom, one who, despite living in a house with a private gym, a tastefully upscale interior, takes a workmanlike approach to his performance. Even when he's hit by a famous fan, he handles all of that pressure as someone who knows that they're all part of the job.
Seeing Curry complete his school duties as his and his college teammates talk about their time in the spotlight a decade and a half ago is a cute piece of symmetry.
"Underrated" is still the product of an experienced storyteller. When the film gets the freedom to be spontaneous, especially in its glimpses into the everyday practice of an alternate-worldly three-point shooter, there's an excitement and a discovery there. The match's cuts between swishes a decade apart or Curry side-stepping defenders for step-back 3s show a greater degree of diligence and playfulness than you'll find in straightforward biography.
Perhaps it's because the film's perception of Curry is that he's too talented and driven by the pleasure of long-range shooting to be petty or mean. Maybe it's the subsequent success of Curry that makes him feel like something different for a different medium. Likewise, the flick's pace runs parallel to the '08 Davidson team's Cinderella tournament run, which is likely to be a missed opportunity or a self-appointed profile that somehow managed to get some time with its main subject
"Stephen Curry: Underrated" was premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. The film will be available on Apple TV+ later this year.