2 stars (out of four)
"Chasing October" is probably a movie only a diehard Cubs fan could love. That doesn't mean, though, that non-Chicagoans or White Sox loyalists can't feel a few Cubbie warm and fuzzies for it, or at least pity.
Director-writer-star Matt Liston's somewhat dubious documentary, or as he calls it his "docu-comedy," records the Cubs' hair-raising, heartbreaking 2003 season--when they made their strongest run since 1984 for the World Series and came up agonizingly short in the playoff against the eventual Series champs, the Florida Marlins. It's a chronicle of obsessions and smashed dreams--which pretty much sum up the state of mind of Cubs fans for the last century, ever since their last World Series appearance in 1945 or their last victory in 1908.
What keeps going wrong? Not just in 2003, but in 1984 and in 1969 (when the Cubs were derailed by the "Amazin' Mets"). Is it too many day games? Is it the celebrated curse of the Billy Goat? Is it the fickle fumbling fingers of fate? The stewardship of the Cubs' owners, the Tribune Co.? (Liston interviews Tribune chairman/CEO Dennis FitzSimons twice.)
Whatever it is, the Cubs curse is now legendary and infamous. And Liston's movie is, in some ways, as much a tribute to that curse and to the way it brings out the best and worst in Cubs fanatics as it is to the Cubs themselves. After all, it takes moxie to ignore the fact that the gods seem always lined up against you and, like the Cubs, to keep dreaming up new ways to throw it all away. Liston's structure and strategy are simple. As writer and director, he also makes himself the star of the movie: playing himself as a wildly obsessed Cubs fan, determined to whip the fans and the team, "by whatever means necessary," into the fever pitch of belief that will carry them into the World Series. Quitting his job before the 2003 season, he commits himself, along with executive producer/cameraman Chris Karnak, to covering the Cubs' run--with himself as head cheerleader--through the entire season.
Liston's energy seems endless, netting him a press pass and carrying him into numerous interviews with players and executives, while never doffing his cap.
Supposedly, everything we see is true, albeit sometimes tongue in cheek. But "Chasing October's" press notes confess that some of the scenes are scripted and staged, and I'd guess those might include the bizarre, nearly heart-rending sequences involving the on-screen breakup of Liston's relationship with his lively redheaded girlfriend Fatine England. Can we really believe that (supposed) cameraman Chris could record Fatine's discovery of a Matt jewelry transaction and her mistaken conclusion that an engagement ring is involved, and not tell Matt in order to stave off later catastrophe? And is Matt really so dense as to blow his chances with Fatine, on camera, by answering her query about whether he loves her more than the Cubs with a bad joke about relief pitching?
Meanwhile we keep edging toward the end, to that fateful moment we all know is coming, when Moises Alou will race to the left field wall for a pop foul, only to have hapless fan Steve Bartman supposedly interfere, opening the gates for the Marlins to foil the Cubs once again.
Now, if "Chasing October" were purely fiction, instead of a hybrid, the fan who interfered would have been not Bartman, but Matt himself. Of course it wasn't. And though "Chasing October" didn't catch the end of the drought, at least it briefly makes it seem beatable.
Directed by Matt Liston; screenplay by Liston, Gary Cohen; photographed by Tarek Abdel-Halim; edited by Robb McPeters; produced by McPeters, Tom Koykka. An Emerging Pictures/October Entertainment presentation opens Friday at The Music Box Theatre. Running time: 1:38. No MPAA rating (some language and mature themes).