Mitch Mustain Documentary Review: A Fascinating Glimpse At A Polarizing Saga

Stephen Dunn

Matthew Wolfe's new film, which premiered last weekend at the Little Rock Film Festival, presents the Mustain saga from the perspective of Mustain, as well as those who played with him and covered him. I saw the film Saturday night and here's what I took away from it.

This is an excerpt of a a full report I wrote for Sporting Life Arkansas. Read the column in full here.

The Identity Theft of Mitch Mustain opens with a home video of Mustain as a small child playing football in his yard, just as millions of other children did at the same age. Nolan Richardson’s voice narrates over the raw footage, describing sports in the most innocent terms. "Sports are good!" he exclaims, citing the important role sports can have in teaching teamwork and organization and so on and so forth.

Then, the movie spends the next 90 minutes apparently trying to disprove that theory.

The story involves most of all the worst parts of college sports. The filthiness of recruiting. Coaches pushing their own agendas at the expense of their players. Inappropriately meddlesome boosters. Media and fans twisting teenagers into demigods. Power, corruption, deceit, influence, ambition. It’s all very Game of Thrones, with the Broyles Center taking place of the Iron Throne and everybody forgetting that the point of high-level college football is the crystal football. And no dragons.

It’s red meat for those that despise the extravagance of big-time college athletics.

The movie is well-done. Interviews with Mustain, several members of the Arkansas media and a few others are inter-spliced with old game and news footage. Those who have followed the story closely through the years may not find much new information (although Mustain’s description of former USC teammate Mark Sanchez was an unexpected highlight), but it does provide an interesting perspective on who Mustain was and is and how he’s dealt with the events that, at least to many people in his home state, will always define him.

This, in effect, is where the title of the film comes from. That Mustain, regardless of what actually happened in those tumultuous years in Fayetteville or will happen in the future, has been strongly defined one way or the other by nearly everyone in Arkansas and around the country who’s ever heard some piece of his story. The film even features quick clips from locals around what is presumably the Fayetteville area giving their varied opinions on the quarterback. To the public, Mitch Mustain is much like a one-hit wonder band. Regardless whatever happens, the Hanson boys will always be the kids responsible for "MMMBop".

But the title is also somewhat of a misnomer, as Mitch Mustain doesn’t come across at somebody stuck in a cage of the world’s expectations. He comes across as a 25-year old still searching for his own identity. Some kids, as Mustain describes USC quarterback Matt Barkley, have their future figured out when they’re small kids. Some people figure out who they are in college, and some people are well into their 20s before they figure it out. The end of the movie focuses on the many different things Mustain has tried his hand at doing since leaving USC, which include professional baseball, selling cars, and his current role as an Arena League quarterback. He doesn’t come across as angry, bitter, or regretful. He comes across as a young guy trying different things out.

Note: Wolfe attempted to secure interviews from Houston Nutt, Gus Malzahn, Damian Williams, and likely others involved, but they refused to participate.

Again, you can read the full column here.

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Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Expats and is a columnist forSporting Life Arkansas and College Football News. You can email him at heydocharper@gmail.com and follow him on twitter @doc_harper.

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