Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Kelce’ is Little More Than a Puff Piece

Director: Don Argott
Writer: Don Argott
Stars: Jason Kelce, Travis Kelce, Kylie Kelce

Synopsis: Highlights Kelce’s 2022-23 season, which started with him having to make one of the hardest decisions a professional athlete would ever have to make: Is it time to retire yet?

The new Prime Video sports documentary Kelce heavily depends on your enjoyment of the professional sport of (American) football. The narrative film focuses on Jason Kelce, and he’s not even the most popular Kelce in the National Football League. While I give the filmmakers credit for not putting their total focus on Jason Kelce’s unquestionably more popular brother Travis, this film is purely nothing more than a puff piece about a Philadelphia sports hero (bordering on legend due tohis Batman fascination alone). What’s disappointing is that the film’s subject is a character, a card, and a natural cut-up. However, the viewer doesn’t learn much about the man that we already know from numerous interviews or his popular podcast.

That’s the thing about Kelce: the entire experience makes the viewer ask either “What was the point?” or “Why now? Do we need the Jason Kelce documentary? Sure, the player’s popularity has never been higher (much of that is due to his younger brother being a superstar). After watching Kelce, you will walk away thinking the film was clearly designed as a sendoff of a popular sports player who put off his retirement, which indeed must have been to the chagrin of the filmmakers. Also, the documentary appears to be a setup for the Kelce brothers’ popular digital podcast, New Heights, which they started last year.

That’s not to say Jason Kelce’s story isn’t worthy of a feature-length movie. The man is a former Super Bowl champion, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, and probably even more impressively, a five-time first-team All-Pro. All of this is remarkable for a man who went to a non-power school at the University of Cincinnati and was a lowly sixth-round pick for the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2011 NFL Draft. There may be nothing more sports and even film fans like than an underdog story, and Jason Kelce is the epitome of it.

I would have loved a more intimate look at Kelce’s struggles to get to the NFL, but it’s only talked about briefly when using Rudy as a comparison to his rise in college football without much insight. In fact, much of his college experience is spoken of in the film, with Kelce being there for his younger brother Travis, who was kicked off the team, and Jason putting his reputation on the line and taking responsibility for his brother if they gave him a second chance.

The film’s theme is the struggle to play on the gridiron again. Kelce talks about that at length, even offering a glimpse of how he deals with pain, bruises, and inflammation before every practice at the ripe age of 35. While that offers quality insight, it appears the filmmaker must have been limited with their cameras because hardly any of the film shows the man training and rehabbing in the confines of the Eagles facility, which takes away the impact of knowing the pain and struggle it takes to walk out on the field every Sunday to get to that point.

I would have preferred more insight from Jason’s charming wife, Kylie, on his struggles and how the life of a professional athlete can affect family life at home. Still, we must recognize that Mrs. Kelce was pregnant at the time with their third child, so any undue stress a feature film would have put on her would have been inappropriate.

I will say, if you have seen any of Kelce’s podcasts or news story highlights, that the man is incredibly funny, down-to-earth, and authentic. The documentary feature does capture that to a degree. Kelce’s debate to bring a fan to the hospital during the delivery of their third child and his dry delivery describing growing a GMO garden filled with weeds. A natural leader, there are also some stirring speeches he delivers to his teammates before the big game the film leads up to that show you the kind of man he is.

By all accounts, and we realize this is all in front of the camera, Jason Kelce is a great teammate, a loving husband, and an even better father (the video of him playing with his children after the Super Bowl loss is adorable). Yet, the film’s theme does try to give you some understanding of what it takes to continue as a professional athlete, that work-life balance and the demands fans and media put on an athlete to make a retirement decision that is anything but easy are not reasonably met. Director Don Argott’s lens only went as deep as the subjects allowed, which limits the film’s impact. That makes Kelce a sports documentary film strictly for football diehards but even more so for the niche Philadelphia Eagles fans.

Grade: C-

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