Today, we review a Sports Documentary with a very special presence and an emotional drama that should have been known better.
Rafa Nadal Academy (Amazon Prime – Spain) – Rafa is one of those sports stars who only needs a first name and almost everyone will know who you’re referring to. It could be said that, like Roger, he’s now at the tail end of an illustrious career. So this documentary, a four-episode limited series, comes at a particular juncture of his tennis career – the juncture where what’s asked is What next? And the answer is a revealing one about the man, and what kind of legacy he’ll leave in the tennis world. The Rafa Nadal Academy will be the one that will endure beyond his playing days, as it’s setting a template for nurturing the future of the sport, and taking all that he’s undergone and endured to reach the pinnacle, and attempting to turn it into a system, propelled by the influences of his father and coach/uncle.
In the course of the four episodes taped in 2020, a constant presence, and one that should make the local audience sit up and notice, is our very own Alex Eala. Her progression as a world-ranked Junior is intimately tied in with her being one of the Academy’s students. And the series follows the scholars of that year, highlighting how the Academy isn’t just about tennis, but just as much about academics, nutrition, Sports psychology, and character-building. It’s a fascinating journey into understanding how the stars of tomorrow are being formed, and how tennis isn’t the be-all and end-all of their young lives. Looming as a constant guiding spirit and icon is Rafa himself, and he offers his homespun wisdom, reflecting on what worked and didn’t work in his own career, and how he’s trying to make tennis easy for the youngsters enrolled in the Academy.
The Starling (Netflix – USA)- Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd are two highly regarded and reliable names in situation comedies, and it’s with a lot of promise that we’re offered this inspirational drama, as it’s directed by the man who gave us Hidden Figures and St. Vincent. To top things off, we see Kevin Kline is also in the cast. And yet, there are some things badly missing in this film, and for me, primary among those would be an organic development of the cathartic elements this film wants to evoke, and the sincerity of the narrative. McCarthy and O’Dowd aren’t necessarily on bad form here, but it seems they’re saddled with an approach that just leaves much to be desired, to make us invest in the film. And that’s the sad truth of the matter.
The premise has to do with a personal disaster, and the trying to pick up their lives after. There’s a similarity to what we saw in the Australian film Penguin Bloom, with Naomi Watts as a paraplegic woman, who befriends an injured magpie. Here, it’s a territorial starling that inspires the character played by McCarthy. But the presence of an avian accomplice is the only thing the two films have in common. Just start off with the badly CGI-ed intro to this bird, and you’ll see what I mean about how this film just smacks of being too manipulative and force-feeding us the emotions the producers are hoping we’ll feel. It just goes downhill from there, and I’m left wondering how an intelligent performer like O’Dowd must have been masking his true feelings about having gotten involved with this project.