The Dream Business
hat kid has talent! Mad skills!” Though this line is uttered by one Coach Griffin (Michael Clarke Duncan), it’s clear that this is exactly what every character in They Call Me Sirr thinks about young Sirr Parker, star cornerback, devoted older brother to Donyea, and very nice person. We might assume that the real-life Parker (now 23 years old and coming off his rookie season with the Cincinnati Bengals) is all of these things, but Robert Munic’s film makes him look near-saintly, miring him in sports-flick and hood movie cliches until the poor kid can hardly move, no matter how mad his skills may be.
Unfortunately titled to call up memories of a couple of Sidney Poitier’s most famous films (To Sir, With Love and They Call Me Mr. Tibbs!), They Call Me Sirr is one of those “famous black individual” movies, extolling the kid’s extraordinary triumph over adversity in a way that is so cliched that you end up feeling grumpy and guilty that you can’t feel good for him. The film never actually tells you why Parker’s mother named him Sirr (though you might guess, as the press notes explain, that she had in mind to “ensure him respect”). The film begins with a voice over, in which the teenaged Parker (played by the charismatic Kente Scott) reminisces, “It’s funny how some things stick in your mind, no matter how hard you try to cut them loose… The one thing I always remember making sense to me was football.” As a means to introduce our hero’s difficult situation—living in South Central Los Angeles, abandoned by his junkie mom Sharon (Novie Edwards), being raised by his ailing Grams (Jackie Richardson), and finding his talent and salvation in playing football—this is a seriously bland bit of narration, its lack of originality underlined by the fact that it accompanies a series of black and white images of the boy and his ball.
As a child, Sirr has a couple of clean-looking banger friends, Damian (Chris Collins) and Dante (Doron Bell, Jr.), who look out for him, cheering him on at football games, refusing to let him participate in gang activities, and, most remarkably, never aging a day, even while Sirr himself is played by three actors (first by Trevonne Chung, then Kyle Kassardjian, and finally, Scott). “You got the gift, Sirr” declares Dante. Or again, “This ain’t your life, Sirr. Your life is much bigger!” As well, the D’s help Sirr take care of his little brother Donyea (Tyson Fennell, then Jordan Fennell), whom Sharon leaves with him during a brief, tearful, and painfully trite almost-reunion scene. Marked as an addict by her dark-circles-under-the-eyes makeup and shambling affect, Sharon approaches Sirr and her mother on the sidewalk, infant swaddled in her arms. When cute little Sirr gives her the evil eye and asks why she hasn’t called, it’s just too much. Sharon loses her cool, hands her baby over to Grams, and runs off down the street, with the camera looking after her from the boy’s point of view.
Such movie-of-the-weekish insta-plotting happens again and again in They Call Me Sirr, simplifying emotions so they’re identifiable—and painfully familiar from previous movies and TV—in 20 seconds or less. Repeatedly, you see Sirr grappling with his feelings and demands on his time, both needing and resenting his mom, loving and stressing about football, washing dishes to support his brother and (I’m out of breath just listing all this…) getting good grades. A couple of montages show Sirr taking care of the baby, reading his weighty American History tome, and hauling ass to football practice. Then, bing!, he’s old enough for high school, at which time he meets his greatest mentor, Coach Griffin, who first appears looming in the foreground of a shot, his mouth wide and voice booming as he yells at his players, driving them to excel. As soon as Coach catches one glimpse of Parker on the field, he knows all he needs to know, and comes by the house (which, he helpfully reminds his assistant, he never does!) to insist the boy play for his Monroe High School team. This is an opportunity too fabulous to pass up, as it will inevitably lead to Sirr being scouted by colleges (he ends up at Texas A&M). “I’m not in the dream business,” Coach assures Grams. “I deal in reality.” Right.
The saga continues, organized like Love & Basketball, by “quarters” (1st, 2nd, etc.), and celebrating Sirr’s huge heart, as well as setting up little snippets of story—Sirr’s grandma dies (after a scene or two where she coughs ominously), his teammate is killed by gang members, and his homeboys are involved in a drive-by shooting, artfully intercut with a football game, so that slow-motion bodies are flying every whichway. Gee, do you think the sequence is suggesting that violence is the American Way? You could say that subtlety is not this movie’s strong suit. You could also say that it doesn’t do right by its subject. While Sirr Parker’s story is inspiring and moving, They Call Me Sirr is anything but.