New from Peter Spedale on Be Movie See Movie: Movie Review: Rise

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It’s impossible to hate Giannis Antetokounmpo. The 2x NBA MVP and NBA Champion on the Milwaukee Bucks exemplifies all the reasons to love the sport: he plays hard, he flies through the air like a superhero, and he’s clearly a beloved teammate, revered by everyone around him. Plus, if you know anything about Giannis’s upbringing, his truly terrible hardships have given him a wonderful perspective on the world around him, cherishing every bit of happiness he has achieved and sharing it with fans and especially his family. Rise gives everyone a glimpse into the insane amount of barriers put in the way of the Antetokounmpo family: a real life legit underdog story that is built to make you fall in love with Giannis all over again.

Giannis’s story starts with his parents, Charles (Dayo Okeniyi) and Vera (Yetide Badaki) Adetokunbo (meaning king from across the seas, just…incredibly on the nose!) in 1990. Searching for a better life, the couple leave their eldest son Francis at home in Nigeria and migrate to Europe. They end up in Greece and have 4 more kids: Thanasis (Ral Agada), Giannis (Uche Agada), Kostas (Jaden Osimuwa), and Alex (Elijah Shomanke). After school, Thanasis and Giannis start playing pickup ball, eventually finding their way onto a Greek basketball club and growing their skills, which, as the real world has taught us, leads to a well earned longer overdue happily ever after!

Giannis’s life would be seen as a cliché if you wrote it as a script. That’s almost freeing; since the story basically writes itself, all the director Akin Omotoso has to do is make the movie as dramatic as possible. Omotoso shoots the family in all sorts of ways to make them feel small, ramming home just how long the odds were at the Antetokounmpo family’s success. Dayo Okeniyi and Yetide Badaki are excellent as the boys’ parents, going through the most harrowing events, as “illegal” immigrants. Rise goes into detail at all of the catch-22’s present in immigrations systems around the world, like “Sure you can get a residency, as soon as you have a job!” “What? A job requires proof of residency to apply?” Okeniyi and Badaki carry simultaneous frustration and determination all over their faces as they overcome each obstacle together. The constant worries the Antetokounmpo’s have to endure to simply raise a family for a better life creates an easy bond with the audience that only grows as the family comes closer and closer to their dreams.

The basketball part of Giannis’s story is told in fits and starts, as he’s supposed to suck for a while. The movie rushes through Giannis’s ascent into an NBA caliber player, which takes away the toil and work at times the boys clearly undertook to get better. Also in the 2nd half, the amazing parent actors cede their time to Uche and Ral Agada, as the Antetokounmpo brothers become important members in their Greek basketball club. The boys are fine, but might be a little over their heads trying to act and play basketball at the same time, and lack a bit of the dramatic heft Dayo Okeniyi and Yetide Badaki possess. I wish the movie also leaned a little harder into what was a great idea: the all for one, one for all musketeer like view of the family. When Giannis is struggling with his basketball, we could have maybe seen Thanasis help train him or take a starring role in the club while Giannis supports him, while the younger brothers took a more active role making money for the family. While there are enough moments in Rise that depict how close the family is, the movie should have leaned harder into this message, which would have emotionally swept the audience into deep deep affection for this amazing Antetokounmpo family.

But as is, Rise does what is necessary: tell Giannis Antetokounmpo’s amazing life story. The movie will only make little kids revere Giannis more, which frankly, is only a good thing for the world. And maybe, most importantly, some poor “illegal” immigrant will be told tales of this other kid like him, showing that kid that dreams can come true if they work hard enough. Dang it Disney, you did it again!

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