It’s apparent from the first moments of Julian Edelman’s new documentary about himself that we’re not in the NFL Films vault anymore.
It begins with actor Mark Wahlberg sitting in a chair on a film set, and he’s not there just to fulfill the apparent rule that any documentary on a Boston athlete must include at least one Wahlberg. He’s not there to praise Edelman, not at first. He’s there to needle him, with language that would require a few bleeps if this were airing on, say, the NFL Network.
He finally punctuates his amusingly crude comments with some praise — “Why we clowning on Jules? I like Jules’’ — but by then we know this is not the sort of thing Steve Sabol would have signed off on back in the day.
And you know what? It works, mostly.
The film, titled “100%: Julian Edelman,’’ is produced by the Patriots receiver and his business partner, Assaf Swissa, and directed by Kyler Schelling. It premieres on Showtime Friday at 9 p.m.
So fortunate to have a song in this documentary from the new LP. Big Up Jules! pic.twitter.com/YKkJ37rPTt
— Citizen Cope (@citizencope) June 24, 2019
It tracks Edelman’s journey from a knee injury in the 2017 preseason through his grueling rehabilitation, a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy at the start of the ’18 season, and the culmination of his comeback as the Most Valuable Player in Super Bowl LIII.
No, it’s not conventional. But neither is Edelman, an undersized college quarterback who worked his way into becoming perhaps the most reliable receiver Tom Brady has ever had. The tone and style of the film is appropriate for the subject. It’s sometimes intense, more often lighthearted, occasionally cartoonish, and pretty easy to like, at least if you’re a Patriots fan.
In a phone interview Monday, Edelman said he originally intended to do some sort of documentary on his football life back in the 2016 season, when the Patriots faced the Falcons in the Super Bowl. But Edelman said he balked at having cameras in his face during the build-up to Super Bowl LI, and decided to put the project on hold.
“Then I ended up getting hurt, and Assaf came swindling in again and said we should do this now,’’ he said with a chuckle. “I was in this mood where I thought it might be fun to have a cool story out there. I’m very superstitious. It took me a little time to allow that.’’
After his injury, Edelman had time to figure out how he wanted to approach the documentary. Swissa already had a few ideas, and none of them were typical.
“To tell the truth, I could get in trouble here, but I hate sports documentaries,’’ Swissa said. “They’re so derivative, other than the ones Showtime makes. It’s always like, here’s the athlete, and . . . Let’s put it this way: Athletes go through media training, and they’re designed to have a degree of resistance toward the camera. That’s why you see all these sports docs, and it’s, ‘Here’s my place, here are my boys, oh, I got hurt, now I’m going to work out hard and get back on the field.’
He paused: “Really cool.’’
He does not seem to find it that cool.
“Listen, Julian is not credited enough for having a creative spirit,’’ Swissa said. “He has a creative spirit, and he has an entrepreneurial spirit. It is because of that that myself and Schelling were able to turn this into something that did not feel like another sports doc.’’
Save for the occasional Edelman highlight montage, there is not a point where it feels like that. Talking heads and interview subjects include Guy Fieri, that Kevin Millar of celebrity chefs, who tells us with visual food metaphors what tearing and ACL is like. Broadcaster Erin Andrews makes a couple of odd appearances, once while a stylist is combing her hair. Comedian Bill Burr is a riot, especially when he’s recounting Patriots history before Tom Brady arrived. And there’s an amusing, if quickly resolved, mystery about whether Brady, whose image has clearly influenced Edelman and then some, will participate in the doc.
There are moments of genuine candor, many in regard to his relationship with his tough but loving father (whose secret talent is the great revelation in the doc), and others about the isolation an athlete feels when an injury forces him to face his professional mortality.
Here’s Edelman, talking about what it’s like in the locker room in the moments after an injury: “You feel lonely. You’re in a lonely spot. Because as much as everything [your teammates] want to say, everything they want to tell you, it doesn’t mean [expletive]. I just know it was going to be a long [expletive] road.’’
The film does take some unexpected turns, veering into a Saturday morning cartoon format when telling his back story at times. And there’s a vagueness that’s problematic if not surprising. Edelman doesn’t delve into the details of what led to his suspension. He apologizes for it (“I put myself in this situation. I screwed up.’’), but having Snoop Dogg read his letter of notice from the NFL doesn’t exactly suggest contrition.
“We decided to make a story of overcoming adversity,’’ Edelman said. “But we did it in a way that represented how I am. Family-oriented, determined, fun, and funny.’’
He laughs. “Or trying to be, which I’m probably not most of the time.’’
In “100%: Julian Edelman,’’ he is more often than not. The doc is different, like its subject, but it also wins in the end.