Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Seth Greenleaf's F(L)AG FOOTBALL takes a cursory look at some gay sports teams

There are a number of GLBT men and women who love sports, either to play and/or follow. TrustMovies does not count himself among these. Still, he's found over the years a number of sports movies, narrative or documentary, to be worthwhile. You might think that the new doc, F(L)AG FOOTBALL -- directed by Seth Greenleaf and tracing some of the history and current status of the now-national gay football league and some of its players -- might be among them. If so,  just barely.

Mr. Greenleaf's approach is scattered, to put it mildly (the filmmaker is shown at left and below). He moves us from team to team, concentrating most on those from New York, Los Angeles and Phoenix -- which, as I recall from his movie, were the original three teams in the gay league. The league's size has now grown to some 20-odd teams of various abilities, with these three usually at the top of the heap.

We meet a lot of different players (too many, really) and get a bit of the background of some of them -- the most interesting of which is the filmmaker's contrasting of the coming-out of two of them to their mothers, one of whom calls her son an "abomination," the other who cradles her boy in love but also warns him, "Don't tell anyone else about this."

What unites these players, surprisingly, is less their sexual preference than their love of football. In fact, by far the most interesting section of the doc is devoted to our learning that not all of the players here are actually gay. Huh? Yeah.

According to league rules, you can have a maximum of 20 percent non-gay players. Evidently, some guys just love playing football so much that who they play for or with matters much less than the game itself. We even meet a player on one of the teams -- New York, I think -- who has transgendered.

The jealousies that occur when a straight player is allowed to become the starting quarterback are alluded to but not explored in any depth, though when one straight player must be cut from a team (due to that 20 per cent rule), he angrily retorts that, hell, he might even be gay. And then slows that down to "Well, maybe bisexual. Anyway, it's nobody's business!"

At moments like these, the movie comes more alive. Otherwise it's far too much rah-rah-rah and we've-gotta-win kind of thing. And while the film brings up some worthwhile questions -- Is the gay league a kind of modern-day "negro league"? And if it really is a gay league, then why aren't all the players gay? (Did any whites play for the Negro Baseball League? Doubtful, but then skin color's harder to disguise than sexual preference) --  none of these gets explored.  The film finally ends by tracking the outcome of the league's series that year -- in which, yes, NY, L.A., and Phoenix are again in the final rounds.

If the goal here -- and it certainly seems to be -- is to convince us that gay football is every bit as difficult and challenging as that of the straight variety (one player we meet actually played in the NFL), and that the players here are just as good as anywhere else, that goal is almost immediately lost when you notice early on that the gay league plays "touch" football rather than "tackle."

Distributed by Abramorama and running a too-long-considering-the-little-we-learn-from-it 97 minutes, F(l)ag Football opens this Friday, June 16, for a week-long New York City run at the Cinépolis Chelsea cinema. Elsewhere? No idea. And the film's web site does not (except for that NYC showing) give a clue.

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