Rise is family-friendly but is an underwhelming story about a family that is anything but.
This review of the Disney+ film Rise (2022) does not contain spoilers.
Disney used to be the go-to destination for against-all-odds sports biographical films. Think about it. Miracle, The Rookie, and Remember the Titans are classics today (an under-the-radar Disney sports film, in my opinion, is the Kevin Costner gem, McFarland, USA). So, when news broke about Disney making a film over the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo, I was excited. Not only is his backstory a fascinating one, but the real-life struggle of his entire family is riveting on paper. If only the studio could communicate that type of bravery and determination in the movie Rise. The final product is standard and underwhelming when the family’s story is anything but.
Rise is about the Antetokounmpo family living under the radar in Greece. They migrated from Nigeria years prior, and nothing has come easy to them as they try to care for their five children. For Charles (Emperor’s Dayo Okeniyi) and Veronika (American God’s Yetide Badaki), it’s about being able to gain Greek citizenship for themselves and their children. And Charles cannot do that without a job that requires an AMKA number. The kids help their mother sell items on the street. The kids help out but often are subject to immigration police crackdowns that have the Antetokounmpo running for their lives.
Charles has them play soccer in the streets to keep the boys busy. The oldest kids, Giannis (Uche Agada) and Thanasis (Ral Agada) are drawn to the basketball game when they play in a pickup game. One of the kids tells them they should come down to the Filathlitikou team center in Athens. The main selling point is that they can join for free. The downside is this may draw unwanted attention to the family’s immigration status.
Directed by Man on Ground’s Akin Omotoso and written by A Private War’s Arash Amel, you’ll walk away knowing Rise has its heart in the right place. What is so disappointing about the film is that such a harrowing journey the Antetokounmpo’s family took to give their family a better life is so frustratingly inert in moving the story along without great detail. Gianni’s struggle from bench player to starter feels like we missed a dozen steps. When he finally starts after his brother is injured, he relies on being more athletic than anyone else. The script doesn’t go over anything he did to improve his game. Even if the camera shows you, his struggle and the coach demand more attention to the details.
What Rise does well is focus on the family struggles of obtaining security for the Antetokounmpo family. Executive produced by the Giannis Antetokounmpo, it’s more of a labor of love. The film’s central theme is the parents fighting for a better life for their children. The journey of Charles and Veronika has a suspenseful scene (that could have been harrowing) of escaping capture and being sent back to Nigeria. There is also a subplot of them having to leave their firstborn with Veronica’s grandmother. This displays how heartbreaking the life of immigrants migrating to other countries can be. However, they are only told with surface-level insight.
Rise has its heart in the right place, but there is an obvious sugarcoating for the film’s target audience. And for Disney, that is always from four to twelve-year-olds. In comparison, it’s refreshing for Disney to finally make a live-action family film where the main cast is diverse. The performances are fine. I found Badaki’s turn as Veronika heartfelt and moving. Okeniyi brings some dignity to the role. And the movie is good enough if you are considering family-friendly viewing. That’s because there are good messages to kids above the drive, perseverance, family, and tolerance.
I may not be able to recommend it in total, but if you want to enjoy a film with your children interested in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s origins, Rise is a safe choice that will fit that bill.
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