By Tim Barlow
At first blush, Kicking It represents a relatively recent and extremely small sliver of my experience. I stumbled onto it one fall day a year and a half ago, and with its description: [this touching documentary follows six homeless soccer players battling poverty and addiction as they prepare to compete in the Fourth Annual Homeless World Cup held in Capetown], I anticipated, as with stories of melting ice caps or shrinking bee colonies, to be guilted, shamed, made to have my emotions fondled indiscriminately, and basically feel much worse about the world, by the time credits rolled.
But this isn’t that type of documentary. Yes, there are a few (albeit shocking) facts on homelessness near the beginning. There is a (only slightly) detracting celebrity monologue by Colin Farrell. There may be a montage set to U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name”, however the bulk of the movie is largely spent following the tournament’s competitors on and off the field.
Now truth be told, I struggled mightily writing this post and it has gone through a handful of different iterations. I kept trying to make this into something more. For instance, up until the day this was scheduled to publish, I had a healthy section dedicated to how I thought this tournament was doing the true work of the church (perhaps better than the church), specifically: preaching good news to the poor, healing people and bringing hope. During another draft, I had a good chunk dedicated to how this movie has helped evolve (even in some small way) my own views and attitude towards the homeless.
And while I think those are still true, they aren’t what I was thinking the first time I watched the movie. They weren’t what caused me to breakdown and cry at a few different moments. They aren’t what ultimately lands this documentary on the list of my 30 most influential movies. What did all those things was the way this movie takes on the seldom attempted role of humanizing those whom society outright neglects. This documentary vividly captures hope and grief and anger and reconciliation, but most of all, joy, and does so in those who have been shown time and again that they aren’t worthy, that they don’t matter, that they don’t have rights or a say, that life would be better without them; that they aren’t really, human.
But they so clearly are. We meet Damien in his nervousness on making his nation’s team. We listen in, with the help of translated subtitles, as Nanjev harmlessly flirts with girls. We are there with Alex’s hurt pride over missing a penalty kick. We go sightseeing to the top of a Capetown mountain, where one Afghani player casually says to a team mate “In the Koran, this is where you would die”. We see them smile, big wonderful smiles, and cry, and celebrate, and cheer. We see as they are not just another nameless, homeless bum, but Damien, goalkeeper for Ireland’s team, Alex, captain for Kenya. Craig, forward for the U.S. And this is why I love this movie, it gives a name, and a face, and humanity. It may be a relatively minor victory in a much larger war, but it’s also a terribly wonderful victory, for a true underdog. And I’m a sucker for underdog stories. So, go watch Kicking It, it’s streaming free on Netflix and many other sites, and well worth your time.