It's not generally a compliment to say that a film reminds you of other films, or has the DNA of other films; the phrases "a poor man's" or "but with less" seem inevitable. To call a documentary "well made" isn't the highest of praise, either, suggesting as it does the absence of anything extraordinary. "Every shot in focus -- a triumph of competence!"
Undefeated did remind me of other stories, and it is well put together, but that doesn't mean it's derivative or dull. It's a straight-ahead chronicle of a year in the life of a North Memphis football team that has never darkened the doorstep of the state playoffs in the school's long history. Practice is held on a hillocky field surrounded by abandoned buildings, and presided over by a plump ginger volunteer coach named Bill Courtney who will bellow the same speech about failures contributing to character until his team hears it.
Martin and Lindsay (the latter of whom also made a doc about the road to the world beer-pong championships; awesome) don't try to reinvent the wheel, or get all hectic with interstitial fonts in an attempt to apologize for a straight-ahead conventional documentary. It's kids, hope, and grown men getting their crying done through football. You don't have to spread much mustard on that. (And that crying scene is a killer.)
More on this when I write my Best Doc overview, but it's a nice piece of work that basically has no shot.
Sarah D. Bunting co-founded Television Without Pity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.com.
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