There are only three times in my life that I remember caring about basketball: 1) HOOP DREAMS (Steve James, 1994), 2) KOBE DOIN' WORK (Spike Lee, 2009), and - lastly - 3) LENNY COOKE (Josh and Benny Safdie, 2013). Each film uses the documentary (or video essay) form to tell a kinetic and deeply human story through the sport. While I recommend that you check out all three films, LENNY COOKE is finally available on virtually every VOD streaming platform as of yesterday, June 7th, 2016, having enjoyed a healthy life of cable television exclusivity.
By all accounts, as a high schooler Leonard "Lenny" Cooke had the makings of a star basketball professional. He came up with and competed against present day legends like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, men whose considerable grace, talent, and influence even I - as someone who is effectively allergic to sports - cannot deny. But success is not bestowed. It is hard work. It must be achieved. And, since the subtext of the Safdie Brothers' film shows that Lenny prefers to lounge, it is no surprise that he cashes in on his prospects to the lowest bidder.
Could you look someone in the eye and turn down a $350,000 cash management deal? Lenny couldn't. Now he has to live with that decision every day. More than a decade later and he has never played a single game in the NBA. The dream, if ever there was one, is dead. The film only has this one point to make, and it mostly does so expertly, but in its final fifteen minutes becomes hurried, scattered, and loses its way resulting in as much sheer disappointment as an almost brilliant parallel to the trajectory of Lenny's story. Aside from a much too clever and on the nose composite shot that manifests as the film's final image and/or gesture, LENNY COOKE is a complex, achingly realized doc that illustrates the exquisite agony of hindsight, but that failure is not the end of meaning.
- Samuel B. Prime
Founder, LA Ciné Salon