The telling moment comes toward the end of Last Day at Lambeau, director Michael Neelsen’s meticulous documentary about Brett Favre’s divorce from the Green Bay Packers.
It’s the first of the movie’s three screenings during the Milwaukee Film Festival, and a large audience has gathered inside the Oriental Theatre. We’ve relived Favre’s Packers highlights, his retirement, his unretirement, his messy departure from Wisconsin and his brief stay in New York.
Now, Favre wears a Minnesota Vikings jersey, and he’s in an NFC title game against the New Orleans Saints. He’s mere moments from leading these Packers archrivals to a Super Bowl, delivering the ultimate dagger to his personal archrivals, Green Bay’s general manager and head coach, Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy.
Then Favre throws the interception that ensures this will never happen. And suddenly, it’s harder to hear the film’s narration.
Because much of the Oriental Theatre audience is clapping.
The applause is testament to two things: how strong local feelings remain about Favre, and how well Neelsen re-creates the dramatic saga that forged those feelings in the first place.
Neelsen, who narrates the film himself, hides neither his love for the Packers nor his youthful idolization of Favre. But he also crafts an unflinching, unbiased retelling of the twilight of Favre’s career, the three years when a star quarterback morphed from the most celebrated player in Packers history to a lightning rod who inspired fans to burn his jerseys.
Or even to clap their hands at the mere sight of a long-ago interception.
If you lived in Wisconsin, or in a country with access to ESPN, then you no doubt lived through the whole soap opera. But Neelsen gets you closer to it, largely by interviewing those who had front-row seats and backstage access – a roll call of area media members who covered the civil war from the trenches. This is supplemented with commentary from prominent Packers fans, including John “Saint Vince” O’Neill.
About the only people Neelsen didn’t interview were those who built the circus tent – Favre and the Packers brain trust. Their sides are told through archived footage of games, press conferences and, in Favre’s case, excerpts from one-on-one interviews, like his three-parter with Fox News’ Greta Van Sustern.
Put it all together, and even die-hard fans will pick up nuggets that were previously unknown or muddled by the haze of history. Like the time “Monday Night Football” announcer Tony Kornheiser compared new Packers QB Aaron Rodgers to Sarah Palin. Or just how close Favre the Viking came to winning his final game at Lambeau Field, and how the loss let Packers fans finally move on. Or the moments that, once and for all, sealed Favre’s schism with the Packers.
“We may never know the full truth of what happened,” Neelsen says of that tipping point.
Perhaps. But Neelsen’s film is a full exploration of Favre’s final years, and for Packers fans, it’s a cathartic roadmap for trips down memory lane.