Kelce (2023) Review
THE MEASURE (AND HEART) OF A MAN
No matter if your enthusiastic sports fan or just a causal spectator, the appeal and overall allure of a sports movie is quite palpable. The compounded nature of filmmaking cinematics against the humans achieving remarkable feats against the vast amount of struggles, pressure, and adversity, usually ending with, if not least inspiring, a positive conclusion to the tale. In truth, it’s prime example for a satisfying underdog “feel good” film experience. Yet, while it’s fun to view a tailored made feature film, be it fictional or based on a true story adaptation, there’s something more enticing and gripping about the real-world sports drama, even if it doesn’t end in a “happy” ending. The past two decades has shown a plethora of sport documentaries from a wide variety of activities and athletes, including the rivalry relationship between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in Magic & Bird: Courtship of Rivals, the insightful and comprehensive look into NBA all-star Michael Jordan’s career in The Last Dance, the harrowing journey of Alex Honnold rock climbing expedition in Free Solo, the in-depth look into football legendary icon Vince Lombardi in Lombardi, and the extensive exploration into the life of the talented Kobe Braynt in Kobe Bryant’s Muse, amongst many others. Now, Amazon Studios and director Don Argott take a camera lens focus on Philadelphia Eagle center lineman Jason Kelce in the documentary film appropriately titled Kelce.
In essence, Kelce follows NFL all-pro center Jason Kelce, who started documenting what he thought was to be his final year in the league. With a new roster of hungry talent, his team, the Philadelphia Eagles, looked to seize the glory of the 2022-2023 season and achieve ultimate prize of making it to the Super Bowl as well as winning the coveted Lombardi trophy. Instead, the film intimately captures “a year in life” of Jason throughout the football season and becoming his most chronicled year that he never expected. From starting a podcast with his brother, Travis, to Jason’s wife, Kylie, being pregnant with their third child, to dealing with the wear and tear of aging athlete, and the ultimate “brother vs. brother” competition when both Jason (Eagles) and Travis (Chiefs) meet each other at Super Bowl LVII. All the while, Jason wrestles and contemplates his future prospects of how much longer he should continue to play before retirement and what he should do after he leaves the field?
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I’ve stated several times in my reviews on sports films, this particular subgenre has certainly made a name for itself, finding a special niche with audiences (globally) who share a “human connection” with the story being told. As mentioned before in those reviews, most of them (if not all) showcase a “underdog” style of narrative structure and, for the most part, come out with a sense of noteworthy and satisfying conclusion that gives a viewer that “feel good” inspiration by the time the movie reaches the ending. It’s the connection of the indomitable and enduring “human spirit” is what usually drives the point home and helps bridge the feature to us as human beings. Sports documentaries follow a similar pattern of projecting the right amount human drama and emotion, but adds an extra level of humanity and grit to it because it’s raw and unvarnished truth. Some stories have happy endings and come to a “full circle” realization of the athlete and the sport that he / she played, while other times it leaves an ambiguous and heartfelt reminder of the troubles that occurred along the way. As to be expected, it’s life…. not a movie and, much like reality, not everything works out the way for a “happily ever after”. Sports documentaries, in my opinion, help shed the light on sport athletes and what they are capable of doing what they do, the harsh struggles they face along the way (both inward and outward adversity), and the power to overcome with unbridled determination.
This brings me back around to talking about Kelce, a 2023 sports documentary that follows Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce during his 12th season as professional football player and the events that play out both on and off the field that season. I will admit that I grew up watching football with my family, with my dad being an avid longtime fan of the Washington Redskins (now called the Washington Commanders). So, of course, the Philadelphia Eagles were there divisional rival, but I actually never knew anything about Jason Kelce. I knew he was an NFL player on the Eagles and that he was center, but didn’t know much about him beyond that. That was until 2022-2023 season when I finally made the connection between him and his brother, Travis Kelce, who plays on the Kansas City Chief as a tight end. I also do remember seeing the two brother’s podcast (New Heights) appear many times online. I actually haven’t watched / listened to a whole episode, but I’ve seeing plenty of snippets from it and find it enjoyable. Definitely better than what the Mannings tried to produce. Perhaps one day I will eventually tune into watching a whole length episode of New Heights. sometime soon. Anyways, the football season played out and both the Eagles and Chiefs made it all the way to Super Bowl LVII, which was nicknamed the “Kelce Bowl” as both Jason and Travis were highlighted during all the pregame hype. Of course, the Chiefs won Super Bowl LVII and Travis became the more recognizable of the two….at least in mainstream media terms. Flash forward to now and I was surprised to hear that Jason Kelce was getting a sports documentary about him in the form of Kelce, which was set to be premiered on Amazon Prime Video on September 12th, 2023. I read the description of the documentary, which stated it follows Jason throughout the 2022-2023 season and I was definitely interested in seeing it. Unfortunately, when it premiered, I was in Costa Rica on vacation and just didn’t have the time to watch it. So, with some free time on one of my day’s off from work, I decided to check out Kelce and see what it was all about. Here is my thoughts on the sports documentary about number #62.
Kelce is directed by Don Argott, whose previous documentary directorial works include Believer, Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time, and Last Days Here. Given his familiarity of directing documentaries, Argott does seem like suitable choice in organizing and helming this particular project throughout its entire endeavor. To that end, Argott does a good job in approaching Jason’s story with integrity, honestly, and a very humbling inspiration. As to be expected, sport films and documentaries always draw upon the similar material and themes to help “connect” the humanity towards its audience. True, the formulaic nature of it all can be a bit tiresome, to a degree, yet Kelce, plays the tropes and makes it endearing to watch. I mean…. everyone loves the Rocky movies, even though the share the same bravado and moniker of storytelling. Agan, the “underdog” tale is something that is rooted in human emotion. The same can be felt with Jason’s story, an aging athlete with prospects of retirement, the pressure of being a sports star to the fans and team while being there for his loved ones, and the demands of the job of being an athlete (and the taxing applications on the body). It’s all there and has been done before, but so what? This demonstrates that fundamental attribute that many sports documentaries want to convey….that athletes and sports stars are but human.
Football players have always been portrayed as “larger-than-life”, taking to the astro turf field and playing their hearts out on Sunday for a chance of stardom and for their team to snag a win in the win column over their competition in the league. It’s as American as American could be. Still, dropping their personas and away from gridiron game, players, for most part, are humanized and face a lot of problems that are commonplace to all. Kelce showcases the notion beautifully by showing a man, who plays football as his profession, and trying to juggle many things at once. This particular “behind the scenes” glance shows the humanity portion that many sports fans love to watch and view. How athletes act in their private life, how they deal with their spouse / children, what aspirations do they do when they are away from the professions, reflections on their adolescent years, and so on so forth. Argot keeps that framework firmly at the center and presents a documentary that, while playing it safe, is still quite a delightful treat to watch.
Of course, who doesn’t love Jason Kelce. Well, maybe fans of Dallas Cowboys or N.Y. Giants, or Washington Commanders, but those are divisional rivals. He’s a loveable bear of a man that’s very down-to-earth and deeply cares about his “love of the game”. Argott definitely captures the multi-facet that he has with different roles that he plays in his life. As a football player, he’s rallying beacon for team and for the fans, he’s supportive husband to his wife, and a loving “family man” father to his children. There’s a very sincere and almost earnest way that he talks about stuff, one that invokes a lot of passion (a word that I will say a lot in this review because you can definitely feel in him) in whatever he does. It’s quite endearing and helps build Jason’s magnetic and likeable personality to all he interacts with. Plus, I find it quite fascinating how much popularity that Jason has amongst Eagles fans, a place that’s usually only reserved for quarterbacks and not an offense center lineman. Thus, it’s a testament to his character and how he projects himself, which (as stated) is quite endearing.
Kelce also talks about the brotherly relationship that he has with his brother, Travis, and how the pair interact with each other. Naturally, their childhood plays an instrumental part, and they share their personal insight on the brotherly love and how they wanted to play on the field together in both high school and college level of football. Naturally, seeing them square off against each other in Bowl LVII was treated to see and it was great to see the camaraderie and love that both Jason and Travis have for each other. Plus, as mentioned earlier, Kelce does show the inception idea of New Heights and how they interact on the show. Again, I haven’t seeing one episode in its entirety, but, after watching this as well as seeing snippets of it on social media, I certainly plan to.
Additionally, Kelce shows the relationship that Jason has with his family members, including his wife (Kylie McDevitt) and their kids (Wyatt Elizabeth, Elliotte Ray, and most recently Bennett Llewellyn). For her part, Kylie is the important “rock” in Jason’s life, an ever present constant that Kelce showcases. She understands the role / pressure that her husband faces and definitely helps him along the way, which is clearly visible in the documentary. Plus, it’s fun seeing Jason interacting with his kids and acting like a father to them all. Lastly, it should be mentioned the importance that Donna Kelce, Jason and Travis’s mother, with this film displaying the mother of the two boys being a focal point in their lives…. In both their upbringing and in their road to Super Bowl LVII.
I do have to give credit where credit is due and should mention that the editing by Demian Fenton and Andrew Weigel should be commendable in Kelce as the duo piece together all the footage filmed together in a way that’s both cohesive and entertaining. Splicing exciting scenes of intense football highlight reels with quieter and / or lighthearted moments are tightly woven and interlaced throughout the documentary and showcase the “year in the life” of what Jason encounters. Plus, the third act of the feature is terrific with plenty of highlight of Super Bowl LVII (aka “the Kelce Bowl”) and how both Travis and Jason (as well as Jason’s family) celebrate and function during the events that led up to the moments as well as the aftermath. Again, it’s a great “all-access” look to see such private moments captured with very real human emotions; something that was only capture for this documentary and not just press.
In Kelce, there is a crystal-clear correlation and overall juxtaposition between Jason and the greater city denizens of Philadelphia. Moreover, the documentary also acts as a “love letter” to the Eagle fans out there and intangible endurance throughout the years. Like Jason himself, the Philly fans out there are the tried-and-true “underdogs”, taking losses after losses and rough around the edges, yet still remain and are loyally passionate about the Eagles. It’s a testament to their fanbase, with Jason epitomizing that underdog feeling and emphasizing the importance of he can relate to his fans. The mirror reflection of Jason’s journey in the documentary is expressive enough to measure the excitement and rallying cry that Eagles fans had for him and (by extension) their team. Thus, Kelce feels like
Perhaps the weakest part of the film is that it doesn’t play out as heavy-handed nor heavy hitting as some of the other sport documentaries out there. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Kelce and I thought it was well worth the time. However, comparing it to other sport docs out there (like the ones that I mentioned in my opening paragraph), Kelce does fall a bit short in that regard. I mean…. the complexed rivalry / relationship that Magic and Bird had in Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals, or the tragic and heartfelt life of Steve Gleason in Gleason, the highly in-depth look into Michael Jordan’s life in The Last Dance. That’s not to say what’s presented works and does give that “behind the scenes” look into both his private and professional life for the 2022-2023 season, but not quite the chronicle of events for an “all-access” treatment. Plus, Kelce career isn’t over exactly, and he could do a lot more beyond the football field, which would make an interesting “follow-up” film endeavor years from now. Thus, I knew it was going to be like this when I first started watching the documentary, so it didn’t bother me as much. Yet, it would’ve been that much more interesting (and fascinating) if Kelce were more of a doc mini-series, which would allow for a much deeper look into Jason’s life, thoughts, and reflections.
Is Kelce the quintessential sports documentary of all time? No, but it is still a very well-crafted production as well as an engaging / entertaining view experience to showcase Jason’s life during such pivotal and almost turning point in his professional career. It showcases a man, who stands upon a crossroads of his football life, looking to muster up his passion for the love of the game for another year or so, but also looking towards the future and what that might bring whenever he decides to leave the field and retire. Coupled with personal injuries reminders and balancing his private life with his family, Kelce is sobering reminder that pro football players are not gods and face similar problems that most people face. To that end, I think that’s where the documentary succeeds the most. It’s inspiring, touching, and (quite frankly) humbly moving…. much like the man himself. Thus, my recommendation for this would be a solid “recommended”, especially for fans of Kelce, diehards NFL Eagles fans out there, and even some casual uninitiated viewers who are interested in learning about #62. In short, Kelce is fine sports documentary endeavor that, while not a memorable classic, still holds palpable longevity and a special impassion he has for football, for his fans, and for being a Philadelphia Eagles. Bless you, Jason Kelce…. continue wearing that flour sack cape, while jumping off garages.
4.1 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: September 12th, 2023
Reviewed On: October 1st, 2023
Kelce is 103 minutes long and isn’t rated by MPA, but is rated TV-16 foralcohol use smoking foul language