Akeem dreams of becoming a pro football player, which will help him free his mother from a life of poverty. He trains hard for his opportunity every day, pushing his body and mind as much as he can.
After months of training, he gets an invitation to a private team workout taking place in five days, where he can catch the eyes of the scouts and coaches who matter. The opportunity inspires Akeem, but it also gives rise to panic attacks. As the workout approaches, he continues to train relentlessly despite his fear — but also edges closer to anxiety that may derail his hopes and dreams.
Directed by Aaron Sterling from the experiences of writer and lead actor Adrian Sterling, this compelling sports drama has the stylings of many stories set in the milieu of professional athletics. Dynamic training montages, built-in objectives pursued with passion and determination, an innate physicalization of objections that the hero must struggle and work through: these are the narrative elements that make sports dramas so classically engaging and build in tension and suspense.
The storytelling in the film hits all these marks with flair, with a visual and editing approach that captures the dynamism of its main character and the innate struggle of the athlete. But the writing also explores a more internal, emotional direction than many sports films, becoming a portrait of a dreamer whose efforts begin to take a mental toll just as he’s on the precipice of a breakthrough.
Adrian Sterling’s performance captures this duality, nailing both the focused endurance and energy of a pro-level athlete but also a man confronted with the brute force of his inner demons, perhaps for the first time in his life. It’s a character, performance and journey that both explores and subverts ideas about Black masculinity, with a multi-dimensionality and heart that should keep viewers engaged and drawn in, until the final heartwarming frames.
Stories about athletes and their mental health have recently hit headlines, and certainly “Make It Happen” could easily fit into these cultural discussions of the cost of pursuing such excellence. But the film has a universality, relatable to anyone who has pursued a dream, perhaps to the exclusion of all else — including mental health and balance.
Akeem must wrestle with his fears, but also his shame and confusion at what’s happening to him. But he can’t just muscle his way through it. Instead, he finds his way back to himself — the self he is even if he doesn’t achieve his dream. The self who loves his friends and family, works hard and finds reward, hope and joy in the process as much as the goal.