It’s summertime, 1974. While a greatest-hits collection of soul music fills the airwaves, teenagers play basketball outside a run-down rec center in the impoverished Philadelphia neighborhood of Nicetown, unaware that it’s all about to be torn down by the city – starting with their basketball rim. Which is cause for alarm: Without that rim, you see, they’ve got no basketball game; without basketball, they’ve got nothing to do; and with nothing to do, teenagers’ behavior tends toward the antisocial. Based on the true story of Jim Ellis, who turned an abandoned community center in a hopeless community into a nationally respected competitive swimming program, Pride
is a perfectly by-the-book sports film about the power of the will to overcome circumstance. There’s nothing that makes it any better or any worse than the dozens of other by-the-book sports films released over the last 20 years, not even, surprisingly, the performances of Howard as Ellis, the coach of a thousand platitudes, and Mac as Elston, his comically dyspeptic right-hand man. Together they cajole and massage and threaten their young swimmers into looking beyond the temptations of the streets and finding self-actualization in the holy sports trinity of pride, determination, and resilience and reward them with plaques and musical montages for their troubles. All that stands in their way is an indifferent city government, the siren song of street life, and the crushing weight of institutional racism (every white person in Pride
is a seething, spitting, fire-breathing burlesque of bigotry). True, these may sound like enormous hurdles for teenagers to leap, but anyone familiar with the laws of modern Hollywood knows they’re only minor speed bumps on a one-way road to inspiration. Pride
’s story was etched in stone ages ago by mysterious movie powers beyond our understanding, and all the Staples Singers’ songs in the world won’t keep it from its appointed rounds.