Sports meets mental health in the new movie The Way Back starring Ben Affleck, which hits theaters Friday. The Way Back is about a basketball coach suffering from alcoholism and how he struggles with this problem and his journey along the way.
Former high school star basketball player, Jack Cunningham (Affleck), is asked to be the head basketball coach at his alma mater. The problem is Cunningham is suffering from being an alcoholic and has other mental issues he is dealing with from being a child and now has an adult.
The team he is coaching hasn’t made the playoffs since Cunningham graduated 25 years prior, leaving the team with a bunch of average and below-average players in the starting line up. That doesn’t stop their new coach from implementing his game plan into hopefully turning the team around.
The director, Gavin O’Connor has a lengthy history with classic sports movies like Miracle and Warrior. O’Connor has also made the movie The Accountant which starred Affleck. The two have worked together and Affleck did not hold back in his compliments of O’Connor at a press event during which he spoke to NYSportsDay in late February in New York.
“Nobody does performance drama or sports better as a director. So he’s kind of the perfect guy for this,” Affleck said.
The supporting cast and the young stars who were on the team spoke about learning from Affleck which made the scenes much easier to shoot.
“He is just the coolest most down to earth celebrity that I’ve ever met,” Charles Lott Jr., who plays one of the players, “Chubbs,” said at the same event. “It made it a lot easier to work with him.”
Melvin Gregg, Brandon Wilson and Will Ropp portrayed some of the squad’s other key players.
“He (Affleck) taught me to never lose the joy of acting,” Ropp said.
Ropp, who plays “Kenny Dawes,” has his own struggles throughout the movie and even if he doesn’t notice them the coach is right there to put him in his place.
The young actors praised actual basketball players on their work ethic and how they don’t always get all the credit they deserve for how hard the sport is. Even though it was for a movie the cast got somewhat of the feel of preparation and training going into the sport.
“It takes a lot of skill and a huge work ethic to play the game. I could only imagine what players have to go through in order to stay in top shape,” Lott added. “If you take three days off your shot is going to be off and the cardio must be intense. I played football and in games, you can take a break, but in basketball, you constantly are running up and down the court.”
Lott played football in high school and the only person that played basketball in high school was Gregg. Gregg’s character suffers from his own personal issues as he realizes how much the sport of basketball means to him. Basketball might not be the center focus for each player, but the sport does play a big role in each of their journeys along the way. For Wilson, who plays Brandon, his character has a tough personal struggle as well so the way Coach Cunningham and Brandon feed off one another is great to see. From a sports standpoint, Cunningham is able to bring the most out of Brandon while also being able to help Brandon with his personal struggle.
This movie can relate to so many athletes and ex-athletes in how fame and the high and lows of sports can affect someone. For former rookie of the year and world series champ, Doc Gooden suffered from the same things Cunningham in the movie does.
“When I was winning everything was great, but when I started to lose it all went downhill,” Gooden said at a preview screening in New York. “I wanted to think I was okay and my ego played a huge part in me not wanting to get help.
Gooden has had his struggles with the law and drugs in the past which he discussed following the screening. Gooden was with #SameHere which is an organization that helps with mental health on a national and global scale. Interestingly enough actor Ben Affleck had his struggles which he was able to incorporate into the movie.
The movie is helpful in understanding mental health while also watching a sports film that emphasizes both sides to the story.