By John Hanlon
A celebration of friendship and determination.
The new Peacock film Shooting Stars is an origin story about LeBron James but it operates as something bigger than that. It’s the story of four friends – they call themselves the Fab Four-- who grew up together in Akron, OH. The friends, who spend much of their time playing basketball or video games bout basketball, were a quartet that stuck together in their youth no matter what.
The feature focuses on that and what they able to accomplish during their high school careers.
The group was composed of Little Dru, Sian Cotton, Willie McGee and LeBron himself. In the film, they are played by Caleb McLaughlin (Stranger Things), Khalil Everage (Cobrai Kai), Avery Willis Jr. (Swagger), and newcomer Marquis Cook.
The story begins with the four students in elementary school playing for a local team called the Shooting Stars. The boys believe that they will continue playing together in high school. However, when a coach at the local public high school — a school known for its championship teams — suggests that Dru would belong on the junior varsity team, the youngster steps up and pushes his three friends to enroll in Saint Vincent, the local Catholic high school. There, he believes, they will have a chance to all play together. Considering that St. Vincent’s recently hired former NCAA coach Keith Dambrot (Dermot Mulroney), Dru convinces his friends to stay together and step outside their comfort zone.
Adapted from the book by Buzz Bissinger (Friday Night Lights) and LeBron James, the story focuses on the students’ high school careers. Because it focuses on a group of four (who eventually become a group of five with the addition of Romeo Travis played here by Scoot Henderson), it feels much bigger than LeBron’s origin story. It feels like a celebration of friendship with one of the friends being a future basketball superstar. With the quartet at the center of the story (and LeBron a supporting player for much of the film’s first half), there’s an energy of camaraderie and connection that helps the film avoid falling into cliches.
As Dambrot notes late in the story, the players know how good they are. Because of that and the fact that many viewers will know how the story ends, director Chris Robinson doesn’t spend a lot of time on the courts. There aren’t many climactic sequences here showing tight scores and slow-motion scenes where the ball floats in the air as the scoreboard runs out. Instead, Robinson knows where the story is and keeps the focus on the boys and their excitement for the game they love.
Although the story focuses on the players, there are some nods to the larger issues at play. When Dru convinces his best friends to attend St. Vincent’s, he’s rejecting a local public school that has a larger black population. That creates a tension that’s hinted at here. It would’ve been interesting to see how the boys felt about that as they became basketball superstars, propelling their team to national headlines.
The second half of the story focuses more on LeBron as he becomes a star, scoring the cover of Sports Illustrated and the exuberance of a growing fan base. When his star begins to shine though, the story negates any talk about jealousy or possible rivalries between the young men. Instead, it stays focused on celebrating the friendships and how the boys managed to stick together even when others tried to pull them apart.
Instead of simply celebrating LeBron James’ origin story, Shooting Stars celebrates friendship and the determination it took for four friends to stick together in high school despite all of the obstacles that stood in the wat.
Shooting Stars is streaming on Peacock now.