Spoiler alert! (Only in the sense that you’ve probably already seen this movie – even if you haven’t).
Johnny and I went to see the movie on a Date Night on Saturday, on which I gleefully kept reminding him, I was also working:
“It’s for my blog! It’s for my blog!” He loved that.
But I was really excited to see the film. After all, this is only the second “football movie” I’ve seen since understanding the game – if only a little. The first being Draft Day (lousy acting, cool graphics, interesting behind-the-scenes stuff for rookies like me). I can remember leaving Draft Day feeling validated: I got the jokes and the sentiment, the action made sense, I learned a little more.
I wish I could say I felt the same for When the Game Stands Tall. Mostly I felt pandered to. And I wished there was more football.
The film relies on some tropes that edge dangerously into stereotypes:
THE COACH – gee, isn’t he stoic and tough? But he sure does have the best intentions of the kids in mind. And he doesn’t really care about winning; he cares about character. And the speeches! He’s good at ’em, yo.
THE ASSISTANT COACH – He’s also tough – but, y’know – less so. If Coach is Dad, Assistant Coach is Mom. As in, “Dad said ‘no?’ Then go ask Mom.” No speeches – but check out those one-liners, yo.
THE QB – He sure is cute.
THE REALLY CUTE WHITE KID (Probably a RB or WR) – OMG! His dad is mean! And will probably have a conflict with Coach. And why is Cutie playing? for Dad? or himself? Deep.
THE REALLY CUTE BLACK KID (Probably a RB or WR) – OMG! He is mean! And will probably have a conflict with Coach. And why is Cutie playing? for [insert racial stereotype here]? or himself? Deep.
THE OTHER BLACK KID – Coach must save him from the “ghetto.” Stereotypes abound. Insert track of rap music only at this portion of the film.
COACH’S KID – it sure is hard being the Coach’s kid.
WHITE LINEMAN – Isn’t he goofy? Seriously. Why do girls even talk to him? What a goof. I should point out here, he is goofy.
BLACK LINEMAN (our team) – So sassy!
BLACK LINEMAN (their team) – can’t see his face, because his helmet is on. So, he probably doesn’t have a face. I assume he is a faceless, giant, killing, monster.
COACH’S WIFE – so concerned. Doesn’t know too much about football – but she is just.so.concerned.
Some extra weird things unique to When the Game Stands Tall were the morality messages, countered with blatant marketing. At points the audience definitely gets DON’T SMOKE! ABSTINENCE! and a lot of JESUS (which makes sense since the real story happened at a Christian school).
But, at more frequent junctures, the audience gets NIKE! DICK’S SPORTING GOODS! and COCA-COLA! So, that message feels equally, if not more, clear.
I’ll give When the Game Stands Tall this: it was frakking hard not to choke up when those boys gave mushy speeches back to their coach (as you knew they would do). It’s very nice and safe, and I’d feel comfortable taking my kids to see it.
But I’m not sure that makes it any good.
I give it …
4 out of 10 yards