30 for 30: Jeanette Lee Vs.

Release: Tuesday, December 13, 2022 (Vol. IV, Ep. 17)

👀 ESPN

Starring: Jeanette Lee; Sonja Lee; Doris Lee

Directed by: Ursula Liang

Distributor: ESPN Films

 

 

 

***/*****

Jeanette Lee is a Korean-American former professional pool player who (to use a Leeism here) took the sport by its balls in the mid-90s. She earned the nickname ‘The Black Widow’ for her ferocious competitive spirit. Jeanette Lee Vs. is a documentary from director Ursula Liang that offers a glimpse of the fire that drove Lee at a young age to win at the highest level and as well the cold water that tried to put her out as a woman trying to break into a male-dominated sport.

There’s an implied “Me Against the World” mentality about the seemingly incomplete title that makes sense once we’ve spent some time with the subject. It’s an allusion to the social dynamics Lee often found herself combatting, at least at first, positioned against just about everybody — certainly the men who leered, but also her female peers who weren’t entirely thrilled about the amount of attention Lee’s meteoric rise and TV coverage garnered. As the film evolves beyond competition, the playful nature of its title also takes on a much weightier significance. 

It’s not a particularly in-depth treatment but there’s enough to give the layperson a good sense of Lee’s mental fortitude and physical toughness, for the odds were stacked against her in ways beyond societal prejudice. While Lee reflects upon the emotional challenges of growing up as a child of Korean immigrants in Brooklyn, the documentary becomes more a testimony to corporeal suffering. Of all the things she has experienced in her life, from a father who walked out on the family when she was five, to being subjected to Jimmy Kimmel’s masturbatory enthusiasm on The Man Show, it’s her own body that’s been most unkind.

Scoliosis from when she was 13 left her feeling alienated and in constant pain. Yet discomfort was no match for her desire to move on from her directionless teen years and start beating the men at their own game in pool halls across the country. As a 50-year-old Lee describes to camera the myriad ailments it has also caused, her similarly numerous achievements seem all the less likely.

That she managed to not just be competitive at a high level — racking up more than 30 national and international titles over a career spanning 24 years — but came to dominate a sport that requires physical poise and intense mental focus, all the while helping to raise the profile of the women’s game, is an act of defiance as much as it has been a catalyst for inclusivity. 

In bringing us up to speed on her current battle with terminal cancer, the film takes a more emotional turn. Yet a pity party never materializes despite extensive, behind-the-curtains footage capturing Lee at her most vulnerable and introspective. Family members and former opponents alike contribute to a sense of communal support for ‘The Black Widow,’ but it is Lee the straight-shooting interviewee, especially as she speculates about the uncertainty of the future, that elevates this narrowly-focused documentary into the realm of general audience appeal. 

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Nailed the look

Moral of the Story: On one well-manicured hand, it feels like director Ursula Liang could have gone into greater detail about Lee’s playing days, particularly the tension among members of the WPBA (Women’s Professional Billiards Association) as she came to prominence and took self-promotion to a whole new level. On the other hand, it is yet more proof of the range of stories 30 for 30 can cover. And it isn’t just the fact it’s a niche sport that makes it feel different. Available to stream on ESPN+. 

Rated: TV-G

Running Time: 51 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com  

JCR Factor #4

July, along with sweltering temperatures, brings you the fourth edition of the John C. Reilly Factor — Thomas J’s latest character study. To find more related material, visit the Features menu up top and search the sub-menu Actor Profiles.

I’m not sure if anyone has ever rated JCR’s sexiness on a scale of 1 – anything. Does anyone actually think about this actor in that way? No? Okay. We’ll just continue, and pretend I didn’t introduce this next performance in that way. . .

John C. Reilly as Reed Rothchild in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Drama

Character Profile: An adult film actor, failed poet/writer and aspiring magician, Reed Rothchild is like many a young and wide-eyed Los Angelino waiting for their break into show biz. While always on the lookout for a better gig he is, for the time being, satisfied with his contributions to famed adult film director Jack Horner’s colorful filmography. When a new actor arrives on the scene in the form of Eddie Adams/Dirk Diggler, initial tensions eventually give way to a lasting friendship that sees both young bucks jettisoning to the fore of America’s most recognizable adult film stars. Unfortunately it is a career path that proves to be just as (if not more) dangerous as it is alluring.

If you lose JCR, the film loses: Reed Rothchild — nothing more, nothing less. As much as John C. Reilly has presence in Boogie Nights, someone else with similar comedic timing and style could fill in for him and the role wouldn’t significantly change. The real strength of this film comes from its storytelling — the overarching journey of the lead(s) from the ’70s party scene and into the comparatively more gloomy and financially less secure ’80s. Reilly gets kind of swept up in the grandioseness of yet another PTA masterpiece. While his character is fun to watch interact with newcomer Dirk Diggler, Reed doesn’t have a big enough part in this film to evoke significant emotions. Count on Reilly to give a great performance but in a film crammed with mesmerizing performances he feels ever so slightly more expendable than usual.

That’s what he said: “You know, people tell me I kind of look like Han Solo.”

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work): 


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Photo credits: http://www.rowthree.com