When the com­edy king spied new turf

Judd Apa­tow’s new sports doc­u­men­tary look at two base­ball stars and the demons they have faced, writes

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Judd Apa­tow was at a postscreen­ing talk for Doc & Dar­ryl, when asked what it was about the mak­ing of his doc­u­men­tary, about once-great New York Mets Dwight Gooden and Dar­ryl Straw­berry, that most sur­prised him.

‘‘I thought it was go­ing to be a lot more uplift­ing,’’ the film­maker said dryly. View­ers might be equally taken aback. The base­ball tale, which Apa­tow codi­rected with vet­eran doc­u­men­tar­ian Michael

Bon­figlio, on its sur­face seems like one more cel­e­bra­tion of those glo­ri­ous 1980s Mets teams or at least a tra­di­tional come­back story of its two prin­ci­pals. But what they found was much darker and more com­pli­cated.

Rather than of­fer a fa­mil­iar story of re­deemed su­per­stars, Doc & Dar­ryl un­cov­ers a pair of men who cap­ti­vated a na­tion and then, al­most si­mul­ta­ne­ously, be­gan an epic bat­tle with their demons.

When au­di­ences tune in to watch the movie – which is screen­ing on ESPN as part of its

30 for 30 se­ries – they likely will come away not only ap­pre­ci­at­ing the depth pos­sessed by a pair of vin­tage ath­letes, but see­ing all of their he­roes in a more am­bigu­ously hu­man light.

‘‘It’s a movie about stars, but it’s re­ally about peo­ple who had a lot more downs than they had ups,’’ Apa­tow says.

View­ers also will have their ex­pec­ta­tions con­founded of a di­rec­tor who af­ter more than a decade chron­i­cling the raunchy and the lovelorn in fea­ture films and tele­vi­sion has, with his first doc­u­men­tary, lo­cated a new arena in which to fo­cus his gaze.

The ba­sics of the Dwight ‘‘Doc’’ Gooden and Dar­ryl Straw­berry sto­ries are widely known. The duo formed the twin tow­ers of base­ball dur­ing the Rea­gan days, two poor kids who as­cended, then de­scended, the sports-me­dia moun­tain. They were Straw and the Doc, the lanky An­ge­leno with the sweet swing and the soft­spo­ken Florid­ian with the arm of gold. Fol­low­ing each other into the ma­jors by one sea­son in the early 1980s, they each would go on to win rookie of the year awards and lead the Mets to the 1986 World Se­ries ti­tle.

The more sala­cious de­tails of their lives, par­tic­u­larly Straw­berry’s bat­tle with drugs and al­co­hol, have been well doc­u­mented in the tabloids. Their hu­man­ity has not.

Re­ly­ing partly on a con­ceit of a re­union in a Queens, New York diner, Doc & Dar­ryl ex­am­ines a wealth of pri­vate thoughts and ex­pe­ri­ences. This is par­tic­u­larly true in the case of Gooden, who, the film tact­fully sug­gests, con­tin­ues to strug­gle with co­caine ad­dic­tion.

It looks, for in­stance, at the hurler’s deep re­gret about miss­ing the 1986 vic­tory pa­rade be­cause of a post-World Se­ries drug ben­der.

It ex­am­ines Straw­berry’s mul­ti­ple bat­tles with can­cer and the com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship be­tween his ill­ness and drug use. (The slug­ger also played for the Dodgers, in­clud­ing a suc­cess­ful 1991 sea­son and two er­ratic years that fol­lowed.)

It cov­ers the stars’ con­tro­ver­sial re­la­tion­ships with women – in­clud­ing a do­mes­ti­cabuse ar­rest for Straw­berry and a rape al­le­ga­tion against Gooden that did not lead to charges.

And the movie makes clear how, as much as the pres­sure – and party cul­ture – of 1980s New York ex­ac­er­bated ten­den­cies in young men of whom too much was ex­pected, the roots of their prob­lems were laid much ear­lier.

Says Apa­tow of what he and his part­ner un­cov­ered: ‘‘We thought this would re­ally be a look how they climbed out of it. As it went on, we be­came more and more aware of how re­cent their trou­bles were.’’

Af­ter five fea­tures that cul­mi­nated in 2015’s Train­wreck, Apa­tow is mov­ing on to new di­rec­to­rial pas­tures. He is mak­ing at least two more doc­u­men­taries: a piece on the South­ern-fried hip­ster band the Avett Broth­ers and a movie about Garry Shan­dling, based in part on the late co­me­dian’s diaries.

‘‘I only have so many sto­ries from my own life. At some point, I have to tell other peo­ple’s sto­ries,’’ Apa­tow says, half-jok­ing, re­fer­ring to the au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal beats in scripted films such as This Is 40 and Funny Peo­ple.

But there may be a more spe­cific rea­son for his de­ci­sion to make a movie like Doc & Dar­ryl. Much as with his re­cent nar­ra­tive work, the film ex­am­ines the lives of men who’ve reached a cer­tain plateau of suc­cess and must con­tend with what to do next, with how to de­fine them­selves. Apa­tow also makes a sim­i­lar sug­ges­tion in this film as he does in many of his nar­ra­tive films: that the devil lies within.

‘‘I al­ways tell peo­ple who say I don’t have enough vil­lains in my movies is that it’s hard enough to get through the day with­out vil­lains, and I think that’s shown clearly in a lot of doc­u­men­taries.’’

Apa­tow was not in­tent on mak­ing a sports doc­u­men­tary. But an ESPN ex­ec­u­tive reached out to him on Twit­ter to gauge his in­ter­est in a 30 for 30 project.

Soon, he and Bon­figlio (the di­rec­tor of You Don’t Know Bo, about multi-sport ath­lete Bo Jack­son) were talk­ing about a Mets movie. Apa­tow, 49, had grown up on Long Is­land a fan of the team, and so the two set about court­ing the stars.

Though Apa­tow said Straw­berry and Gooden have seen and liked the movie, nei­ther at­tended its New York pre­miere.

‘‘It’s a story that goes to a lot of dark places and not one where you nec­es­sar­ily want to make your­self avail­able for a whole bunch of in­ter­views,’’ says Jonathan Dahl, the ESPN ex­ec­u­tive who over­sees 30 for 30.

As many en­tries in the se­ries have done, Doc & Dar­ryl demon­strates that all good sports sto­ries are hu­man sto­ries. An­chor­ing the film is the Amy- ish idea that, be­yond sim­ple schaden­freude, dis­missals or even pity, celebrity ad­dic­tion should stir more com­plex feel­ings about hu­man fragility.

And hov­er­ing above Doc & Dar­ryl is a melan­cholic air of what might have been – both for th­ese men and their sin­glecham­pi­onship team – had they not been be­dev­illed by dis­ease or had they, and oth­ers, bet­ter suc­ceeded in de­feat­ing it.

‘‘We could have made a story about the crazy 1986 Mets and all the stuff that went on,’’ Dahl says. ‘‘But that was less in­ter­est­ing to us. Dwight and Dar­ryl’s prodi­gious ta­lent makes you want to ex­plore what hap­pened. Th­ese two saviours – why didn’t they save the Mets? Why didn’t they save them­selves?’’ – Los An­ge­les Times

Doc & Daryl next screens on ESPN on July 19 at 11pm.

Af­ter years of mak­ing come­dies, Judd Apa­tow has now tried his hand at mak­ing a sports doc­u­men­tary.

Dwight ‘‘Doc’’ Gooden and Dar­ryl Straw­berry were both stars for the New York Mets base­ball team in the 1980s.

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