Underrated (Rated PG-13)

By: Adam Freed

A funny thing happened in the midst of Stephen Curry’s red carpet stroll to basketball immortality.  He, like many of his friends, family, coaches and basketball insiders realized that he was never supposed to be there.  The high stakes global game of NBA basketball isn’t one that allows for short, skinny, mediocrely athletic (by NBA standards) kids to become the greatest three point shooter of all time.  Casual basketball fandom will accept that Curry is a permanence, someone who, like the mighty redwoods, seemingly has always been there playing the role of long distance assassin.  These misconceptions and assumptions form the powerful root system of Underrated the compelling new Apple+ documentary directed by Peter Nicks, and produced by one of the world’s preeminent filmmakers Ryan Coogler.  

There are two avenues of successful documentary filmmaking.  One is to take a subject or topic that is underrepresented and illuminate its necessity for an audience.  This was the magic of Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s Free Solo (2018).  Through the glorious use of IMAX quality footage, they introduced the world to free solo rock climbing and to the heroics of the now famous Alex Honnold.  The alternate, and more difficult avenue for documentary success is to take a well known subject and provide supplemental coverage that allows for new insights and appreciations to form.  This was the masterwork of Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie (2023), and now within the same calendar year, lightning has struck twice.  What makes Underrated a film worthy of exploration is that as much as it is a story about a basketball player, raised by a basketball player, it is so much more than hardwood, heartbreak and heroics.

Peter Nick’s case study, through extreme access to Curry’s family and friends, brilliantly unearths the world in which Steph is raised.  A mother that suspended his phone usage for two weeks as a teen because a friend sent him a curse word via text message, is a humorous and enlightening window into the foundation that holds up a skyscraper.  A high school that was mostly indifferent to his basketball prowess, neglecting to even celebrate his acceptance of a Division 1 basketball scholarship, albeit to tiny and unheralded Davidson College.  The glow that Underrated presents about Stephen Curry is that he is not a man who overcame being overlooked, he is a man defined by it.  The humanization of Curry has never been a difficult sell for his marketing team.  Not many NBA superstars look a decade younger than they are, while clearly standing a foot shorter than some of his competition.  The precise needle he, and this documentary thread is that Curry is an everyman, in stature, in fatherhood, and within his family.  He just happens to be an everyman, who stands alone in the annals of NBA history.  Unlike Jordan, Lebron, Magic and Shaq, Curry’s feet seem to never seem to hover within the realms of being a deity, a subtle truth that Underrated captures with perfection. 

From a storytelling perspective, the non-linear presentation of Curry’s voyage through the hoops landscape allows for audiences to realize the pendulum-like repetitive swing of Curry’s David slaying basketball Goliaths across the decades.  In particular his 2008 career announcing run through the NCAA tournament with his underdog team of Davidson Wildcats, which hauntingly foreshadows the 2022 run to his 4th NBA championship.  The eerily deja-vu laden experiences are goosebump inspiringly presented through layered crosscuts that present each contested 3 pointer as yet another stony death blow to the giant standing before him.  Stephen Curry has earned his place at the table of basketball immortality and Undefeated makes appreciating this fact feel much more worthwhile.