So, the Superbowl. Yeah. I'm definitely one of the people who only watches it for the amusing ads. My favorite:
And that is all I got out of the Superbowl. On the other hand, in keeping with the spirit, I did watch a football movie (that I was in no way persuaded to watch even though I hate sports movies with a fiery passion equal unto naught but the sun itself. That's not what happened at all).
So yeah, I usually can't stand sports movies, painting athletes as these glorious heroes or scrappy little underdogs who against all odds achieve a victory that everyone saw coming an hour and twenty-odd minutes ago. Don't get me wrong, I like a fluffy ending as much as anyone, but the endings to your typical sports movie isn't fluffy, it's diabetic. Based on the previews I'd seen ages ago, I assumed Friday Night Lights would be much the same thing and settled in to watch with a healthy air of skepticism.
As I've previously stated, I'm not often wrong about movies. But when I am, I'm usually glad I am. Friday Night Lights gets to be on that short list.
So the movie centers on the true story of some crew that traveled to the heart of Texas and followed around this high school football team from Odessa for a year in 1988. While the aspect of the crew following the kids around is downplayed in the movie, the shots are tight and intimate and kind of shaky, giving it a sort of documentary feel that really works here. It's interesting. Anyway, we follow several of the kids on the team, Don, played by Tron-boy, Mike, played by Lucas Black, Chris, played by Lee Thmpson Young and Derek Luke playing the star of the team...James "Boobie" Miles, whose name I will totally not giggle over for the next ten seconds.
Anyway, they're coached by newcomer Gary Gaines, played by a surprisingly toned-down Billy Bob Thornton. The first thing movie tries to make clear to the viewer is that football is a SRS BIZNESS in the town of Odessa, partly because they don't have much else going on for them. The kids on the team aren't just facing pressure from their coach or parents, the entire town is on their ass to bring home a championship and be undefeated and find a cure for cancer, etc. Random strangers stop the boys, seeking reassurance that they are totally going to crush the other teams. At one point, Coach Gaines tells them: "Gentlemen, the hopes and dreams of an entire town are riding on your shoulders. You may never matter again in your life as much as you do right now" Dude. These kids are seventeen for Christ's sake.
And if the pressure to not fuck up or the town will kill you wasn't enough, the boys have their own issues to deal with: Don is stuck in the shadow of his father, a local football legend who never did anything with his life after high school and spends his days being drunk and living vicariously through his son. Mike wants desperately to escape from Odessa but is stuck with an ailing mother tying him there. Boobie (tee-hee) is a football prodigy, but tears his ACL in the first game. There is a truly heart-breaking moment when he plays his injury cool in front of the team before retreating to his car to sob in his uncle's arms because he has spent his whole life working towards the one goal of being a football player, and now has nothing.
There's no funny picture that can follow that. That scene is upsetting. That's what I liked about this movie. As much as it does give in to various sports movie cliches like narrow victories and underdogs and teamwork lessons, it doesn't shy away from truths other movies like it usually avoid: like that these football loving towns are completely insane, and that while millions of kids in the U.S. play football, only a fraction of them ever make pro, and the pressure placed on them by everyone they know is going to SEVERELY SCREW THEM UP.
There is a final big game and nail-biter outcome that I won't ruin. The film does try to end on a positive note while staying true to real life, and the actors really do a great job portraying these boys who both love and hate the sport they play. Thornton is excellent as Gaines as he tries to walk the tightrope between keeping the boys sane and happy and trying to get them to win games so the townspeople don't chase him out of town with guns. Seriously. Explosions in the Sky does the soundtrack, which is really excellent and blends seamlessly with the action on-screen.
For a movie about high school football, Friday Night Lights is visceral and evocative. It makes you care about these kids stuck in this crappy podunk town and how football is both their way out and also what will tie them to Odessa forever. You watch in shock at the fanaticism the town displays and then realize that they have nothing else in their lives to be proud of other than their high school football team. I got a whole lot more than I bargained for with this movie and was incredibly impressed. If you're not a typical sports film fan, give this a watch, it's different and great and scores four catapults out of five.
This is Sugary Cynic, still assuming the TV show version sucks. 'Night!
Coach Gary Gaines: "Being perfect is when you can look someone in the eye and know you did not let them down"