by Kevin Gardner
If you have seen the movie All-Stars, you can congratulate yourself on accomplishing a rare feat. Fewer than one million initially saw this 2014 production of a comedy about a girls’ 10-and-under fastpitch softball team. Those who did see the movie rated it highly. Perhaps, however, you thought the title was a reference to the 2013 British film of the same name about a children’s club in London that is about to be bulldozed. Others might have thought it was about the 1997 Dutch film, All-Stars, about a soccer team. This review is about the American film that was perhaps less seen than either of the others. If you have not seen this movie, here is a spoiler alert: this is a delightful film that, while telling the story of a team of tweens, is far more concerned with the girls’ ambitious parents.
What Was This Movie Really All About?
From the Bad News Bears to The Mighty Ducks, Hollywood has produced a number of movies about sports teams themed around the growth and resilience of children, with sports serving as a background theme. In All-Stars, the kids—who do not know or care much about their teams, winning or even their softball bats—are not the focus. Instead, the player’s driven, perfectionistic parents take center stage. The central conceit of the movie is that the absurd behavior of the parents is incredibly, sadly realistic. Many reviewers delighted in what they saw as the film’s true-to-life depiction of hovering, demanding parents. In this sense, All-Stars is a case of art imitating regrettable life.
Who Dreamed Up These All-Stars?
The driving force behind the movie is a journeyman director, producer, writer and actor named Lance Kinsey. Canadian-born Kinsey is one of those actors whose face is familiar because he has appeared over the years in many popular movies and television programs. Kinsey’s talent is apparent in every aspect of the production. He wrote the screenplay, directed and starred in the movie as one “Lance Grayden”—the author’s actual middle name. Grayden portrays a formerly triumphant fastpitch softball coach who decides to return to coaching. The intimate nature of the script is demonstrated by the fact that the character names of many of the actors are their actual names: Miriam Flynn becomes Miriam Carson; Richard Kline becomes Richard Kind.
Who Brought Life to the All-Stars?
Speaking of the cast, the movie is an over-the-top romp for them. The closeness of the director to his acting friends turns the film into a veritable playhouse production, as the characters are allowed to use their creative chops to expand each part hilariously. One marvelous example of this is the late Fred Willard, who marvelously steals every scene into which he stumbles. You will recognize a lot of familiar characters and actors, each given free rein to push past the limits of absurdity. At some point, you may find yourself feeling grateful these are actors and the children do not have to endure them in reality. Of course, real kids on athletic teams do suffer from such helicopter moms and dads.
What Is a Mockumentary?
Kinsey, who was a member of the famous comedy troupe Second City, wrote and directed the film as a mockumentary. Several reviewers noted that it reminded them of some of the marvelous Christopher Guest films of this genre, such as Best in Class and This Is Spinal Tap. The film is presented as a documentary following a group of hapless girls who just want the softball season to be over while their parents politic to get them onto the league’s all-star team. Indeed, there is a lot of mockery taking place. Grayden helplessly observes alleged adults mocking parenthood while their daughters’ disengagement mocks the consuming intensity of fastpitch softball.
It can be noted that Kinsey has pulled off a first in the genre by using children as a passive contrast for the near desperation of parents whose self-worth is caught up in an endeavor to which their kids cannot do justice.