Director Brent Hodge, mostly known for his documentaries A Brony Tale and I Am Chris Farley, met Aubrey Plaza in a New York City coffee shop one day and heard about her recreational women’s basketball team, The Pistol Shrimps. Although they already had a small following, mostly through Plaza’s fame and recognition, there really was not a full-blown recreational women’s basketball team in Los Angeles, let alone other cities.
It is common knowledge that women’s sports do not usually get the same attention, reverence or respect that men’s sports do. The Superbowl is essentially a national holiday. Novak Djokovic recently stated that women athletes should get the same prize money as men because less people watch them. Regardless of whether these traditions or opinions are valid, it is clear that not enough love is given to women’s sports.
Pistol Shrimps changes all that by following the titular team throughout their division-winning season, diving into various parts of what makes the Pistol Shrimps stand out. The team is aided by members fully immersed in the entertainment industry, a wisecracking podcast duo and (surprisingly) dedicated fans. Mix all of these together and Hodge has created an enjoyable, funny and uplifting portfolio of these diverse women coming together as friends and athletes.
The Pistol Shrimps may have won their division league tournament, but the documentary champions women instead of the sport, painting a complex portrait of lawyers, mothers, singers, models and comedians. Several of the Pistol Shrimps tell their story, including Maria Blasucci, writer and actress, Molly Hawkey, who filmed herself into The Bachelor, Melissa Stetten, a model, Jesse Thomas, a folksy indie musician, Angela Trimbur, an aspiring dancer and others. Although this may not have been intentional, The Pistol Shrimps succeeds by not focusing on the already-famous Aubrey Plaza, and instead allows these budding entertainers to shine and share their talents.
Hodge finds a nice balance between evading and subverting sports, female and entertainment stereotypes, effectively using iconic SportsCenter graphics and styling to progress the basketball season forward and introduce the audience to the team members. He also knows comedy. Although the documentary is not terribly funny, there are many laugh-out-loud or giggling moments, like when Hodge explores the women’s basketball team names, featuring amazing and envy-inducing puns like “Kobe/GYN,” “The Miss Demeanors,” “Shecago Bulls” and many more.
Pistol Shrimps may uphold women as athletes and entertainers, but one of the comedic highlights of the documentary is the podcast that emerged from the creative minds of Matt Gourley and Mark McConville. While they may not do much actually basketball commenting, the duo makes sure to comment on funnier aspects, whether it is giving the referees inappropriate names, appreciating eclectic sock choices or simply utilizing their brand of sarcastic humor to make the games more enjoyable.
These aspects of Pistol Shrimps above at first makes it seem like an unique, different documentary, quite like the team and the animal itself. However, towards the end of the movie, lamentable decisions get made that prevent Pistol Shrimps from being more memorable. Pistol Shrimps falls prey to clichéd tropes of sentimentality, and the documentary itself is not funny or touching enough to be more enduring or worth a second viewing. Even though the film did not seem too bloated, certain moments definitely could have been reduced or cut out completely, and sometimes I wondered whether this would work better as a documentary short instead of a feature-length movie.
Even if Pistol Shrimps is not perfect, there are still some very quotable lines and enjoyable moments (“Han, Mah Boogie” is now my new catchphrase). It is definitely worth the first viewing, if not to simply learn more about these amazing women, encourage more girls to get involved in sports and to show that endurance is necessary to improve both on the court and off.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
Although Pistol Shrimps fails to make a strong lasting impression, the documentary is nevertheless hilarious, entertaining and cheerful, willing to embrace its own infectiousness, silliness and undeniable conviviality. Not only does Hodge use humor to create an inspirational and feel-good movie, Pistol Shrimps highlights the diversity of these women, not only in their lives but also their talents, and proves that you do not need to accentuate romantic lives or drama in order for audiences to successfully respond.