By Richard Ades
Though it’s riding high after playing a decisive role in the presidential election, Philadelphia often suffers from an inferiority complex. According to the new documentary Maybe Next Year, that’s because the birthplace of American democracy is now a blue-collar berg that languishes in the shadow of New York City.
That may help to explain why Philly was the site of that classic sports-underdog tale, Rocky. And in the documentary’s view, it definitely explains why the happiness of so many of its residents rises and falls with the success of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Director Kyle Thrash proves the point by focusing on several Philadelphians as they follow the NFL team through its eventful 2017-18 season. Black or White, married or single, retired or struggling to make a living, all are devoted to their team heart and soul. Over the years, that’s made it all the more painful when the “Birds” disappointed them.
“I love my Eagles, but they gotta feel the same for us,” superfan Shirley cries during one of her frequent calls to a sports radio show. “I can’t take it!”
Equally passionate is Bryant, who admits the team may serve as the “scapegoat” for his disappointment over his own failure to find a mate. But that doesn’t stop him from unloading his frustrations in R-rated YouTube videos. “Run the m—–f—— ball!” he shouts when the team throws pass after incomplete pass.
Then there’s Barry, who’s put his money where other fans’ mouths are. Though he and his wife had planned to move to Florida after he retired, they instead spent their savings building a huge Eagles “locker room.” Essentially a private sports bar with a two-story ceiling, multiple tables and a giant TV screen, it allows them to share the team’s games with an extended “family” of fellow fans.
Finally, there’s Jesse, perhaps the most pitiable of all the featured Eagles followers. He naturally wants to share his love of football with his young son, but the boy’s autism makes it hard for him to learn the fundamentals. Adding to Jesse’s frustration, his aging father is suffering from a brain tumor that may keep them from sharing the team’s upcoming games.
Rounding out Thrash’s portrait of Eagles fandom are scenes of drunken tailgate parties that prove to be nearly as dangerous as football itself, along with a church service that doubles as a pep rally for the hometown team.
As football aficionados doubtless have realized already, Thrash fortuitously filmed his documentary during a season that proves to be atypical for the perennially hard-luck Eagles. Nevertheless, it still provides fans with plenty of scares, including the injury-related loss of a godlike quarterback. The tension level is especially concerning to Barry’s doctor, who worries the former heart attack patient will get too worked up during games.
Maybe Next Year is a funny, occasionally touching and always entertaining look at a beloved team’s power to unite a community while giving purpose to its residents’ lives. Whether their devotion amounts to an unhealthy obsession or a harmless diversion is a question director Thrash doesn’t presume to answer.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Maybe Next Year is available beginning Nov. 10 through VOD outlets.