Stories are often told by people who reached unthinkable heights of fame talking about how they don't recognize themselves at the very peak of that fame. These people are often very baffled by what they see when they're forced to look back at their celebrity years, but the statement was made for a man like Lawrence Taylor.
Directed by multiple-Emmy winner Pete Radovich, Jr. and narrated by Jon Bon Jovi, LT: The Life and Times (premiering Friday at 8 p.m. ET on Showtime) is frank, surprising, almost always entertaining, and non-judgmental. The film portrays a man swallowed whole by a "persona," long past the point in which he was relevant enough to use it. But where a movie like this could rest on its laurels with cliche sentiments about fallen heroes and comebacks, it finds ways to subvert them.
The movie is centered around the wedding of Taylor's daughter, Tanisha. Nobody's pretending everything's OK between the two. It's immediately explained that Lawrence has not been a very present father to Tanisha, so much so that he will not walk her down the aisle alone. You see his various children in talking head interviews. Their emotions range from "trying to mend fences" to "kind of over it." The movie spends the rest of its time explaining just how badly LT has screwed up for things to get to this point.
Little time is spent pretending that Taylor was some sort of golden boy ruined by fame. His parents, in their lone appearance, explain that he was the sort of child who was a little wild and wouldn't be stopped by being told not to do something. He came to football late in life, but once he did, he was the sort of game-changing athlete that legends are built upon.
This part of the movie is not very interesting.
We've all seen footage of Lawrence Taylor playing football. It's enthralling, but it's not why we're here. The movie slowly develops into a series of colorful vignettes from Taylor's football playing days: being the least convincing picketer during a players' strike, commercial acting, living life as a restauranteur, and snippets of little-seen interviews. It's easy to see why this guy was beloved: he was honest, funny, charming, and frankly the most frightening athlete anyone had ever seen to that point.
That's not the story that needs to be told, though. The fireworks factory of LT: The Life and Times is his descent into cocaine abuse, nights spent partying, and the bad decisions that led him toward professional wrestling. There is plenty of that. I think it speaks volumes when Mike Tyson is the only person who will even speak about your club-hopping days -- and even then, only in vague terms. Still, getting to see all the photos of all the famous people who adored LT, you truly get the sense that, for a short time at least, he was a god.
Some of the most interesting footage comes from LT's teammates, like Harry Carson and Phil Simms, as well as coach Bill Parcells. The question is posed as to whether the New York Giants looked the other way during his playing/using days. Boomer Esiason, brought on as the token tut-tutter from the outside, suggests they did. Parcells flat out states that it "pisses [him] off" the question even gets asked. It's tense stuff and, by this point, it's almost surprising how vastly different the worlds in this movie are.
The film turns on another dime post-retirement. It heads as far down into Taylor's post-football life as it can. Give the man credit: he holds nothing back. Perhaps Taylor had nothing to lose by doing so, but he seemed mostly honest about what he went through. In a post-screening Q&A following the premiere of LT, he was visibly shaken by how things ended up and how they looked on screen.
The only part of the movie that made me uncomfortable is the segment on Taylor's 2011 statutory rape case. While he is past the incident, he still pled guilty to it and is now required to register as a low-level sex offender for the next 20 years. While this portion is as honest as the rest, it's the only point in which LT does something wrong and tries to mix in humor from both Taylor and his attorney. It goes beyond trying to make the viewer comfortable by taking things over a line they shouldn't cross.
That's my lone gripe with this excellent movie.
Everything looks immaculate, it's almost entirely honest, and populated by colorful characters (most notably Taylor's best friend, Dean-o). Most importantly, it won't force you to judge Lawrence Taylor. Radovich and his crew clearly know that most viewers coming into this movie already have an opinion of LT, whether negative or positive. Their job was showing everything, and they did just that.