May 20, 2004; Regal Falmouth #3
* * * ¼ (out of 4)
Seeing this movie will firmly establish any Red Sox fan's position as a masochist. As if going back to the Boston boys of summer every year isn’t bad enough – there’s always disappointment – this documentary-style look at the tragic 2003 season allows Sox fans to punish themselves in the off-season as well. From shaky start to heartbreaking home run, the filmmakers recorded every bump in the up-and-down season that was almost the season.
The film follows the 2002-2003 season as seen primarily through the eyes of about eight fans, including a pair of Boston women, a wheelchair-bound man, a bar owner in California, radio’s “Angry Bill,” and a commander in the Boston fire department. In addition, the filmmakers were granted full access to the clubhouse, Fenway Park’s dugout, management offices, and any game footage they deemed appropriate. Despite all being set against the same backdrop, some of the fans’ stories are more interesting than others. Eternal pessimist Angry Bill, a regular on Red Sox radio WEEI, watches his initial stubbornness crumble away, eventually shattering when the Sox actually make the playoffs in the wildcard spot. So addicted to the team is Bill that during the super-stressful ALCS with the Yankees, Bill stayed home from work physically sick for a week. His pessimism was broken by Game 7, only to be reconfirmed by Aaron Boone’s 11th-inning walkoff shot. Other stories take similar patterns, but some are downright boring; the two women involved always seem to be saying the same thing over and over again, and I learned from them that even fellow fans can get aggravating after a time.
The gems here come from the all-access pass given to director Paul Doyle and his crew. Shots from the clubhouse after wins show an off-the-wall team, led by Pedro Martinez showing off a goofball side that hasn’t been prevalent since Nomar Garciaparra taped him to a post outside the dugout in a 2001 game. The onscreen antics of Pedro and teammates Kevin Millar and Derek Lowe are priceless, and they exemplify a feeling that everyone in the film reinforces: when you play in Boston, you play for fun, and a love of the game. The truth is that we fans are sheep; after 86 years of disappointment, we’re still coming back, because the Red Sox are Boston’s pride and joy. The rivalry with the “Evil Empire” of the New York Yankees is so strong and so powerful… no fan would be able to forgive himself if he weren’t in some way present for the eventual toppling of the Bronx behemoth. The fan base of the Boston Red Sox is more than secure; we just expect the team to give us all they’ve got.
The film shows the emotional rollercoaster that the season put fans and players through, using infamous clips like Johnny Damon’s collision with Damian Jackson, Trot Nixon’s walk-off homer in Game 3 of the ALDS, and Pedro’s confrontation with Yankee Don Zimmer. Most powerful is a clip of Tim Wakefield in the clubhouse, sobbing after giving up Boone’s home run, showing just what playing in Boston can mean. Every player wants a World Series ring, but no team has been teased and rejected like the Red Sox.
The appeal of this film is awfully limited; Boston fans will eat it up, but I doubt fans in other regions will be interested. Every team has dealt with disappointment; why Boston gets a movie about it might be hard to explain. All I can say is that in Boston and the rest of New England, the Red Sox are a way of life. The 2002-2003 season was one of the most exciting and disappointing seasons in baseball history, and it’s a saga to remember. Still, We Believe is a fine way to do it.