[Tribeca 2023] THE SAINT OF SECOND CHANCES -- An Underdog Documentary About So Much More Than Sports
Review by Sean Boelman
The Saint of Second Chances might be getting positioned as a baseball documentary, and while America’s pastime might play a huge role in the film, there is so much more to this movie than that. Jeff Malmberg and Morgan Neville’s documentary The Saint of Second Chances is extraordinarily resonant in ways you wouldn’t expect.
The film tells the story of notorious baseball promoter Mike Veeck, the son of Major League Baseball owner Bill Veeck, as his antics undermine his father’s legacy before he gets a chance to redeem himself. Although we’re used to seeing underdog stories in the sports genre, The Saint of Second Chances is a unique one in that it’s not about an athlete.
For much of the first two thirds of the movie, there is a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. Given Veeck’s larger-than-life personality and the exaggerated nature of some of his “stunts” — like setting off fireworks in an indoor stadium or burning disco records on a baseball field — the film moves by at a very buoyant, enjoyable pace.
The movie makes extensive use of re-enactments, starring comedian Charlie Day as the younger Veeck. Although these sequences aren’t entirely necessary, they are entertaining. Other storytelling techniques Malmberg and Neville use include archive footage, talking heads, and narration by Jeff Daniels — all of which come together to craft a compelling story.
However, in the third act, the film becomes much more about Veeck’s personal life, particularly when it comes to his relationship with his daughter. This portion of the movie is extraordinarily moving, and even heartbreaking at times. At this point, it’s clear that Neville is an expert at tugging at the heartstrings, and The Saint of Second Chances is no exception.
The portions of the film that explore the idea of legacy are also very resonant. For the first third of the movie, we are learning just as much about Bill Veeck as we are his son, setting up the image that the film’s subject had to struggle to live up to. Then, as we move into the rise-and-fall-and-rise-again of his son, it’s all the more impactful.
One might think that, with all of the story that Malmberg and Neville have to tell, the documentary would feel rushed — especially considering the brief 90ish minute runtime — but the filmmakers manage to tie everything together in a way that is very satisfying. The way in which they trace the Veeck family’s arc feels incredibly naturalistic.
The Saint of Second Chances is a documentary that should not be as moving or powerful as it is, but it benefits from the deft directorial hands of Jeff Malmberg and Morgan Neville. The result is a story that is equal parts humorous and moving.
The Saint of Second Chances screens at the 2023 Tribeca Festival, which runs June 7-18 in NYC and June 19 through July 2 online.