'Winning': Film Review

Courtesy of JJ Unlimited Productions
Inspirational but familiar.
9/8/2017

Jacqueline Joseph's documentary chronicles the careers of five noteworthy athletes.

More anecdotal than illuminating, Jacqueline Joseph’s documentary chronicles the roads to success of five world-class athletes. Intending to shed insight on the philosophies that led them to their victories Winning too often feels like an intertwined series of inspirational television newsmagazine segments. Nonetheless, the film should appeal to sports fans thanks to the noteworthy talent on display and the copious amount of archival footage that serves as a reminder of why these athletes were so compelling.

Tennis champion Martina Navratilova, golf legend Jack Nicklaus, Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci, track and field star Edwin Moses and Dutch Paralympian Esther Vergeer candidly discuss their lives and careers. Each of them had to overcome obstacles both major and minor in their youth, including Moses, who wore glasses and braces as a child and whose gangly legs prompted his schoolmates to call him “Kermit” (as in Kermit the Frog), and Vergeer, who became paralyzed at the age of eight due to complications from surgery. She went on to become a championship wheelchair tennis player and movingly relates how she didn’t let her disability prevent her from aspiring to athletic feats.

Anyone with vivid memories of the 14-year-old Comaneci achieving a perfect score in gymnastics at the 1976 Olympics is bound to feel their age while watching the now middle-aged athlete describing her early struggles and triumphs. Equally compelling is Navratilova’s account of how she requested political asylum in the United States early in her career. She did so knowing that it was the only way to achieve her professional dreams but that it would come at the expense of being separated from her family. Moses vividly describes the frustration he felt over not being able to compete in the 1980 Olympics due to the American boycott.

The individual athletes’ stories are certainly interesting, but in many cases more than a little familiar. The film does, however, provide a bounty of interviews with friends, family members and colleagues of the subjects which provide interesting insights, and the wealth of old photographs and home movies on display delivers fascinating personal touches.

Winning doesn’t break any new ground when it comes to sports documentaries, with its whole proving lesser than the sum of its parts. But sports fans will still find much to enjoy when they encounter this documentary in home video and cable television formats.

Distributor: JJ Unlimited Productions
Director/screenwriter: Jacqueline Joseph
Producers: Jacqueline Joseph, Andreas von Scheele
Executive producers: Eddie Roschi, Lene Copeland
Director of photography: Andreas von Scheele
Editors: Jacqueline Joseph, Simeon Hunter
Composer: Paul Brill

77 min.

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