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We Believe
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by Erik Childress

"Because What Else Can Cubs Fans Do?"
4 stars

When the Chicago Cubs were swept out of the playoffs last year in the first round on the 100th anniversary of their last World Series victory, it was the first time I was ever so mad at the team that I considered breaking up with them. Five months later with Spring on the horizon and a seemingly never-ending preseason, I was ready once again for Cubs baseball. That’s what it is to be a Cubs fan. Those outside the circle see us as fools in a battered relationship and we tell them that they just don’t understand – as we carry the internal bruises they’ve given us year after year. It’s near impossible to tear down the bias I have towards the team of my father and my grandfather and any film about them has an early step up on jerking out the emotions from good-to-bad. John Scheinfeld’s We Believe, the first theatrical documentary to be fully authorized by the Cubs organization, is an encapsulation of everything the Cubs represent, warts and all, and is just as much a tribute to the city that surrounds Wrigley Field as it is to the team that threatens to burn down its spirit from April-to-(every once in a great while)-October every year.

Narrated by Gary Sinise, We Believe documents the 2008 Cubs season, a year where we were celebrating 100 years of futility. While newer clubs like the Arizona Diamondbacks and Florida Marlins were able to win it all and that other team on the Southside rubbed our face in their victory, the Cubs have been denied a World Series appearance since 1945 and a win since 1908. “Anyone can have a bad century,” as Jack Brickhouse once said, but guys like Joe Mantegna (who delivers many of the film’s best lines) are optimistic about the 21st. After all, “we have 92 years left.” The list of fans are far and wide for the team, thanks in part to WGN becoming one of the first cable superstations to broadcast games into homes across the country. Our homegrown fans range from George Will to Hugh Hefner. Never missing attendance on an opening day are Jeff Garlin, who cries on that day each year and Bonnie Hunt, who calls it her “New Years.”

People have to come and see the relationship between the team and the city,” says ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, a Northwestern grad and lifelong Cubs fan. One of the true pleasures of We Believe is the manner in which it establishes the city itself as what forms that eternal optimism. Wonderful shots of Michigan Ave interspersed with the various neighborhoods that make up this “giant Mayberry” - as Hunt calls it - give way to the history of Chicago from its hardships with weather and fire to the generations of blue collar families that passed down this team from one to the next. As author Scott Turow puts it, people go to New York because it’s the mountaintop of potential success. They go to Los Angeles to become a star. But they come to Chicago to get a job. And sometimes even to be a part of the Cubs.

2008 was supposed to be our year. We were coming off our first division title in 18 years. The symmetry of a century was too perfect a story to ignore and clearly the filmmakers of We Believe recognized that. Unlike Matt Liston who, allegedly, was told in a dream by Harry Caray to document the 2003 season for a film that became Chasing October, this is a film with great access to the players themselves. Interviewed are Derrek Lee, Ryan Theriot, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, Kosuke Fukudome, Kerry Wood, Geovany Soto and the multi-purpose Mark DeRosa whom General Manager Jim Hendry says is the kind of guy “you win games with.” Too bad he got rid of him in 2009, huh? All get individual asides about their contributions to the team, both on the field and off, and you can see why they chose these guys. Inviting and funny, they are the kind of personalities we would be happy to introduce to our kids as role models; hard workers with downhome attitudes who seem to know how blessed they are to play this game. A personal favorite of mine, Kerry Wood’s decade-long journey from the rookie who struck out 20 batters in a game to the injury-prone DL staple who reinvented himself to become one of the top closers in 2008 is practically a movie all onto itself. If We Believe existed only to document this particular year, the ups-and-downs alone would be enough to sustain its place as another worthy film about the Cubs.

We Believe is a film that I suspect will play with just baseball fans in general. Just substitute your own team and many of the same feelings as just an afficionado of the game’s history will be enough to guide you through it. Here you can see the first known motion picture footage of Chicago, shot in 1897 by a guy named Thomas Edison as well as a Cubs game from 1909. Who among us remember that we were actually the first dynasty of the 20th century and the first team in baseball to win back-to-back championships? Probably very few. Despite our “wildly, naďve optimism” come every April, Cubs fans are “the ultimate masochist” according to Mantegna and we think of curses and the events that always keep us from the white “W” flag that flies for all of Wrigleyville to see. We Believe doesn’t dwell on these moments, instead giving us a quick montage of the black cat, the Bartman ball and the errors by Leon Durham and Alex Gonzalez. If the game teaches us that the breaks even out over the course of a season, then the Cubs are probably still paying back the controversial Fred Merkle incident in 1908 (given a fun representation here) that gave us the second chance we needed to get to the World Series that year. At the same time, while Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo get their words in, the collapse of ’69 is never referred to.

Die-hard Cub fans, as happy as they will be with the sheer amount of detail and stories in We Believe’s 100 minutes will likely be equally unhappy with precisely how much has been left out. Maybe they won’t bemoan the exclusion of ultimate fan, Ronnie Woo Woo, or ultimate ranter, Lee Elia ( , but like a TV show headed for a “to be continued” or a history class still on the Civil War come June, we’re 80 minutes in by the time we get around just to 1945. There’s a nice aside for Steve Goodman, the songwriter responsible for the love-it-or-hate-it winning anthem, “Go Cubs Go”, but how did the film manage to throw five songs into the final credits and ignore Eddie Vedder’s fantastic “All The Way” (, a song written in the waning days of the very season We Believe documents? While it’s nice to see the winners of a “Cubs Love Stories” promotion featured in the film, was it necessary to go back to this couple THREE times to tell another piece of their story? Sure it’s a nice story but with all this Cubs history to get to, Sue and Chris Jones quickly become the emergency test pattern set to the same Plain White T’s song that keeps breaking into the program we want to watch. Ryan Dempster may get one of the film’s biggest laughs with his impression of Harry Caray that outdoes even Will Ferrell, but to do any Cubs documentary and not often a single image or vocal recognition of the real Harry Caray is pretty unforgivable.

Good thing that Cubs fans are the most forgiving on the planet, even if a day removed from seeing the film I still want to strangle the woman who, in line for the Cubs opener, jokes about them choking. And I still haven’t forgiven Bartman either. Sorry, Steve. For years I’ve been waiting for the definitive film about the Chicago Cubs. This Old Cub has been as good as it gets when it comes to the personal struggles one player has endured with the team and the two-hour WGN special, Cubs Forever, may have been the most moving about the team’s history. Despite its shortcomings, We Believe is certainly destined to be on that short list of Cubbie tributes. As a cinematic travelogue of Chicago alone, We Believe could be put in the same breath as The Blues Brothers, The Fugitive and The Dark Knight. Nobody but its fans like to be told what is “America’s team.” Cubs certainly have the red in their uniforms that the white & blue of the Dallas Cowboys lack. But more than that, it’s the team’s struggles that serve as that perfect metaphor for never giving up and always believing their truly is a “next year.” Dennis Franz says the team “represent hope, wholesomeness and the epitome of team spirit” even if Jeff Garlin jokes they’re “not for result-oriented people.” Garlin never denies the experience the Cubs provide him every year though and who am I to disagree?

Watching HBO’s one-hour “Wait ‘Til Next Year” just the night before I saw We Believe (in a room full of White Sox friends), all of us couldn’t help reminisce where we were during these infamous moments and laughingly shake our heads at the tragi-comical bad luck they’ve suffered. But for every disappointment there’s a loving memory. I was at the Ryne Sandberg two-homer game against Bruce Sutter. I was stopping for gas on the way home from a screening on opening day last year when Fukudome hit the game-tying three-run homer. This month I’ll be taking my dad onto the dirt and grass of Wrigley Field during their “Hey Dad, Wanna Have A Catch?” event. No way those memories will ever leave me no matter how many playoff games they lose. We Believe, of course, ends with more disappointment but Bob Costas perfectly puts the stamp on the film when he talks about what the impact of a Cubs World Series victory would mean. Pessimists may be worried about hell freezing over or a celebration that would turn Mrs. O’Leary’s cow over in its grave. The true Cub fans though – the real baseball fans, of which there are many, who don’t just show up for a beer or ten – will be an inspiration to anyone who believes that dreams really can come true. Even on the corner of Clark and Addison.

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originally posted: 06/09/09 02:40:50
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User Comments

9/06/09 sally smith I loved it--I grew up going to cubs games 5 stars
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  DVD: 06-Apr-2010


  DVD: 06-Apr-2010

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