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In seeing The Heart of the Game, you will certainly feel a sense of deja vu. This kind of film about an underdog team that works together and overcomes adversity to win the championship has been done many times, both in documentaries and fictional films. But it is a very seductive plotline that almost always sucks me in. The Heart of the Game closely follows the Hoosiers playbook. It tells the story of a high school girls basketball team in Seattle. It starts out with the usual plotline. The team is no good. A new untested coach is brought in to lead them out of the wilderness. The coach, Bill Resler, is a neophyte who has been an accountant all his life. But he gets the team's and the viewers' attention right away with his enthusiasm and bloodthirstiness. He has a theme name for the team each season, i.e. a pack of wolves, a pride of lions, and proceeds to tell the team how they will devour the opposing squads and rip them to pieces. It sounds bad but when you see Bill in action, it is quite endearing. As the film continues, we follow the team through several seasons as they improve greatly but never quite go all the way to becoming State Champions.
The plot twist and the emotional core of the movie arrives when The Heart of the Game begins to focus on one very talented but troubled player, Darnellia Russell. We follow her through her whole high school career. It is amazing that the makers of The Heart of the Game seem to have been filming at the school for about 10 years! Darnellia is unusual right away because she is a black girl at a mostly white school. Her mother chose to send her there for the better academics and Darnellia didn't even go out for the basketball team but someone sees her play and she is recruited for the team. We follow her and the team as they improve year by year. Then, just when we think the inevitable inspiring championship is about to happen, they lose and we find out that Darnellia is pregnant. She misses a whole year of basketball and then when she wants to return, the school board won't let her. She has to go to court to get permission to play. Finally, we get the championship season that the film makers waited 10 years to get! But the thrill is tempered by the fact that Darnellia gets no college scholarship despite being the best player in the state. Even though it mostly has the usual Hoosiers plot, story of Darnellia is so compelling that The Heart of the Game is a cut above.