Redefined: J.R. Smith opens with one of those documentary clichés where a person enters the frame and sits on a couch or a chair. This shot has inexplicably fascinated many documentary filmmakers, which is why it can be found in most documentaries. What's its appeal? I can't say. Perhaps, it's meant to provide a break from all those shots of interviewees who are already seen sitting on a chair. I have a list of clichés, and whenever I see them (or a part of them) in a documentary, it becomes clear to me that the film/show is uninterested in offering a new filmmaking experience. In such a case, I solely rely on the story of the subject for pleasure and surprises.
So when J.R. Smith came in front of the camera and took his position, I braced myself for yet another series of documentary clichés. This means I thought Redefined would turn out to be mediocre at best. For some time, it even unfolded as expected. We observe Smith's victory through celebratory clips where the basketball is expertly thrown into the basket. Other interviewees remark how much they adore Smith, and people on television comment on Smith's athletic prowess. One of the interviewees claims that coaches used to warn players that if they wanted to imitate Smith, they first needed to be like Smith.
Smith comes with tattoos, and someone regards him as the "definition of outside the box." And then, the praises give way to criticisms. A man accuses Smith of smoking weed, and a headline informs us that Smith has been arrested more than any active NBA player. In one of the scenes in Redefined, Smith talks about people discrediting his talent and cries in front of the camera. He says he never wanted fame and money and played basketball purely out of passion. It's not exactly an eye-opening insight. This is the kind of statement celebrities often dish out in public.
So far, so typical. You get the usual up-and-down graph, which starts with a prodigy and arrives at the lowest moment. Now, it's comeback time, which means the graph will again go upwards. This is where Redefined becomes pleasant, thanks to the story of the subject. A "normal" player's documentary would have told us about his/her return to the same field. But Smith's life is not so conventional. The series might have opened with a cliché, but there is a small "twist" there: Smith is shirtless. Similarly, the whole series contains predictable beats, but there are some surprises packed into the narrative (those who are aware of Smith might not be too surprised by the story). There is a reason why the title of this series is "Redefined." It's because Smith defines himself again through a different path and a different physical activity.
This basketball player turns into a golf player when he joins North Carolina A&T. Smith had gotten involved with NBA soon after finishing high school. He was not fond of studies and was picked up on at school. From being a basketball player and school hater, Smith transforms into a golf team member and displays enthusiasm for education. He does a 180 and inspires an A&T staff member to say this motivational line: "It's never too late to restart life."
A&T college, we are told, is like a family. Redefined takes the hint and puts the spotlight on other people like Anthony Ford and Xavier Williams. We hear their stories and watch their parents express their happiness. The documentary has a wide perspective. Unsurprisingly, then, the most joyful thing here is the graduation ceremony as the "family members" assemble and revel in an ecstatic moment. The cheerfulness can also be found in the cartoonish illustrations, making Redefined easy on the eyes. Director Philip Knowlton does not redefine the mechanics of a documentary film, but he serves them with zing.
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