This stellar, incisive slice-of-life doc centers on the kind of crowd-pleasing competition story that lures in audiences and then lays bare heartsick truths about small-town America today.
The film follows the 2010-2011 season of Indiana's losing-est high school basketball team, a hapless Hoosier squad with lots of heart — and who went 0-22 the year before. Directors Davy Rothbart (the co-creator of Found magazine) and Andrew Cohn open with the team's coach, a hunky local cop, addressing his players after a dispiriting loss: "You scored zero points in the fourth quarter," he says, amazed.
Much tense basketball footage follows, including one thrilling down-to-the-buzzer game against the second losing-est team around, but what's most moving is the film's examinations of the lives of the players. Why is the team so bad? The Medora Hornets represent a school with just 70-odd students, and their schedule pits them against the larger, consolidated school districts that the citizens of Medora fear they might get annexed into — with the brick plant and the plastic factory long gone, that school is all the prideful town has left.
Why do the Hornets keep playing? There's just not much else to do, and several of the players live sadly unstructured, unsupervised lives, with only the school and the church offering guidance as to how to be a person.
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These kids' desperate urge to win, just once, reflects their circumstances: growing up in a no-job town, given little opportunity, having to find it within themselves to get out there into the world and matter.
They dig deep, and you might bawl.