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Who is Stan Smith? It was a question that I asked myself until getting a chance to see Danny Lee’s well-crafted, if mild documentary of the multihyphenate icon. For those unaware, Smith is a tennis legend, a humanitarian, and, if you can believe it, a name in fashion. His storied life is chronicled in meticulous, competent detail and features interviews with all those who were in the vortex of Smith’s upward spiral of success and determination. Who is Stan Smith? is certainly an entertaining piece of work, inspiring even. Yet for all of its feel-good messaging, we are never really allowed a moment to find a bit of Stan in ourselves.

The film starts with a quick snapshot of who Smith is, then begins parallel chronologies of the various paths that have defined him. We learn the history of Smith’s upbringing in Pasadena, California, and how he just sort of found his tennis talent. Lee carefully recounts his subject’s myopic youth against a country in the turmoil of the late 1960s. With African-American teammate Arthur Ashe at his side, Smith keenly observes the inequity based on skin color around the globe. Meanwhile, we are treated to the inner machinations of Tennis and the various global committees that manage it.

Meanwhile, we get to know Stan Smith, the family man. We learn about his lifelong romance with wife Marjory Gengler. We learn of their first meetings, their on-again off-again relationship through the years, and their ultimate marriage and family. This family includes South African youth Mark Mathabane, whom Smith helps to escape apartheid to build a new life in the United States.

Then we meet Stan Smith the fashion icon. Through mere chance, Smith’s lifelong friend Donald Dell facilitated a sponsorship deal with Adidas that led to Smith’s face on shoes. After David Bowie does a photo shoot with Stan Smith’s shoes on, the youth of Brittain begin to adopt the fad. It soon carries over to the U.S. where the likes of Run DMC and the Beastie Boys wear them as statements and sales skyrocket. Boom. Another unbelievable stroke of luck simply by doing something as average as brokering a sponsorship. Admittedly, the sponsorship was groundbreaking in a few ways, but nothing that could arguably be said to have fostered its success.

I was consistently impressed by Who is Stan Smith? but never really inspired. This was a person, a great person, who chose kindness and love over violence. Through his passion for Tennis, Smith grew as a person and built metaphorical bridges that stand to this day. The downside is that I was never once able to see a bit of myself in the subject. We are not afforded a glimpse into Smith’s faults. We are never allowed to see the subject as fallible and, hence, human. We watch as Smith continues to live a successful life both personally and professionally, only with relatively modest downfalls. The film’s message of “Just be a good person and good things will happen” is simplistic and bland.

That said, Who is Stan Smith? is a fitting chronicle of a remarkable life.

Who is Stan Smith? Rating – 6 out of 10