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In the Game    cover photo

In the Game 2015


Distributed by Distributed by Grasshopper Films, 12 East 32nd St., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016
Produced by Produced by Maria Finitzo
Directed by Directed by Maria Finitzo
DVD , color, 88 min.

College - General Adult
Japan, Popular Culture, Music Trade, Singers

Date Entered: 12/20/2016

ALA Notable:
Reviewed by: Reviewed by Brandon West, Social Sciences Librarian, State University of New York at Geneseo

From the outset, In the Game appears to be a feel-good documentary about an underdog high school girls soccer team. However, Peabody Award–winning director Maria Finitzo offers a deeper experience for viewers. She provides a realistic look into the world of low-income students and highlights the social issues they face as they pursue higher education. The soccer field may serve as the setting of the film, but ultimately, it serves as a metaphor for the supportive community that fosters the young womens’ determination and drive.

The documentary follows the lives of three students—Alicia, Elizabeth, and Maria—over the span of four years beginning at Kelly High School, located Chicago's South Side. The first quarter of the film, subtitled Year 1, focuses on the soccer team during Elizabeth and Maria’s senior year, and Alicia’s junior year. Their school is impoverished and lacks resources, including a soccer field. The soccer team does not allow their disadvantages to dampen their spirits, thanks to the support from their empathetic coach, Todd. They make the best of their situation and practice drills in their school hallways. Teamwork and passion prove not to be enough as they are defeated by other schools. While the young women all express disappointment, they remain hopeful and committed to their team.

Years 2 – 4 focus less on soccer and delve more intimately into the lives of the young women Alicia is now a senior and captain of the soccer team, and begins looking forward to her post-high school life. She eventually goes to college, but cannot afford to continue her education. Elizabeth goes to community college after high school, but her studies get disrupted by the need to help her parents run their clothing store. Maria, an undocumented immigrant, wins a $3,000 grant to attend architecture school. However, the pressure to help raise her younger sister and the need to work several part-time jobs leads her to eventually dropping out of school. As the years progress, more social and economic pressures, such as marriage, continue to provide the women with hurdles that disrupt their dreams. Only Elizabeth manages to eventually graduate from college.

The documentary is a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit. Alicia, Elizabeth, and Maria each encounter numerous challenges and continue to find happiness in their lives. Finitzo smartly avoids over-explaining and over-analyzing the young women’s situations. In doing so, the director acknowledges the intelligence of the viewer, and allows them to draw the connections between the complex social issues that hinder the young women’s educational journeys. This also prevents the film from pointing fingers or blaming others for challenges the young women face.

While Finitzo presents a narrative with understated depth, the film suffers from occasional dips in technical quality. Most of the film seems to have been filmed using a standard definition camcorder, which gives the effect of a home video. There are occasions when several people are having a conversation and the film moves back and forth with jerky movements. When this happens, it is difficult to concentrate on what is happening in the film. Fortunately, this issue does not persist throughout the entire piece.

In the Game will appeal largely to academic audiences due to the film’s connection to social justice issues. Some prominent issues presented in the film include low socioeconomic status, immigration, women’s rights, and access to education. This makes the film a great tool for facilitating discussion in sociology, social work, women and gender studies, education, and diversity courses. Despite some technical flaws, the documentary brings forth important ideas regarding education in the United States, particularly that success cannot be obtained solely through hard work. The film offers many things to think about, which make it a useful resource for library collections.