At this point in time, I wish I could say that Chasing Sarasota by Matt Mastrantuono was the stereotypical sports movie. In fact, I wish it were a standard sports story. For people who are a fan of sports movies like Chariots of Fire or Angels in the Outfield, the movie provides a new, refreshing perspective and pace compared to the standard sports story. Even for people who are not familiar with athletic movies in general, the film is well put together, easily swapping between gameplay clips and more personal interviews with the players. It is an overall solid film, but seems rather wonky in terms of plot pacing.
The Rhinos, an Ultimate Frisbee team the movie concentrates on, have all the talents and all the players to make it to the national championships, and the hardships the team faces throughout the four seasons the documentary follows really had me rooting for the team. The non-fiction story had all the trappings of the same old local team looking to make it to the national competition. The movie starts out with a humiliating defeat. Half-way through the season, the team picks up a talented new player who reorganizes his teammates. The team even faces their rivals repeatedly, who handed the Rhinos their harsh defeat at the beginning of the film. What really changes the dynamic of the film is that in each and every season, the Rhinos build up so much hope to make it to the nationals, only to be brought down in a crushing defeat.
The repeated defeats are probably the most jarring part of the Rhinos’ narrative. Instead of the steady ramp from the dregs of defeat to the heights of victory that audiences are used to seeing, the plot restarts from rock bottom as the team fails to reach the nationals every season. Meanwhile, in the interim period between competitions, it becomes apparent how important these defeats make team cohesiveness and leadership. Whether they are making motivating speeches or leading the team through training in spite of a significant injury, the team captains are inspiring role models and are both devoted and down to earth individuals.
In danger of spoiling the movie, I must admit that the final regional game that ended the movie was a complete letdown. You spend the entire movie watching the team grow and improve—getting closer and closer to finally grabbing the regional title and progressing onto the national competition—but the team completely blows whatever momentum it had by throwing the finals match and taking their chances with winning the loser’s bracket. They aren’t even able to make an inspirational comeback when facing their rivals with the point totals reversed from their first defeat in a moment of poetic justice. The movie just ends there.
Despite this major flaw in the finale, the film is a solid movie and a testament to sports auto-documentaries. The athletes are really fun to get to know and the occasional segue into their personal lives really adds depth to the protagonists. These segues are so innocent that it really illustrates the pure love they have for Ultimate Frisbee. Whether you love Ultimate Frisbee, sports films, or personal documentaries, Chasing Sarasota is a solid choice.