Wednesday, March 25, 2015

When the Game Stands Tall

Directed by Thomas Carter.
2014. Rated PG, 115 minutes.
Jim Caviezel
Laura Dern
Michael Chiklis
Alexander Ludwig
Gavin Casalegno
Clancy Brown
Ser-Darius Blain
Stephen James
Matthew Daddario

I've. been an avid football fan ever since Mama Dell brought me home from the hospital. Legend has it that I was born with eyeblack smeared beneath each of my peepers. Without question, I slept while wearing a football helmet. Mama Dell has pictures to prove it. Since genetics determined I would only grow barely tall enough for most amusement park rides, a career in the NFL was not meant to be. Still I've remained enamored with the happenings on gridirons across the land. Therefore, I must be forgiven if I occasionally think the game has divine power. Espousing this gospel is essentially what When the Game Stands Tall does. Unfortunately, this is not the same as the gospel it wants to push.

The movie follows Bob Ladouceur (Caviezel), head football coach at De La Salle high school. This isn't your typical underdog team. They haven't lost a game in well over a decade, 151 wins in a row. Before the start of the new season Coach suffers a heart attack and decides to retire. Then the unthinkable happens. The team loses a game. Everyone in town completely flips out. It's like they were all Kardashians and couldn't find a camera to jump in front of. Catastrophe level one zillion. Predictably, Coach decides to come back and try to steer the team away from being like everyone else on the planet. Yawn. Oh, it's based on a true story. Yyyeeeaaaaahhhh, I'm still yawning.

To be fair, When the Game Stands Tall seems to follow the template set by real life coaches everywhere and flat out lies to us about its priorities. So many have stood at a podium in front of a room full of reporters and TV cameras and told the world they were leaving the game to spend more time with their family, that in the grand scheme of things being physically present in the lives of those they love is far more important than football. This often happens after some personal health crisis or familial tragedy. Within a year or two, these same guys are back at a podium announcing their return. Coach Ladouceur doesn't make any formal announcements. His crime is far worse. In private moments with his wife Bev (Dern), he pours his heart out to her about how much family means to him nd how stress of the job is killing him, and how he just wants to be there for her and their son who just happens to be a senior player on the team our hero is leaving. As soon as the team loses a game, both Bob and Bev are like "Oh shit, better get back out there!" A game. Just one. Hmph. F'in Kardashians. In short order, the wife and any notion of obligation to her practically vanishes from the movie. He's back full bore, trying to win at all cost while pretending not to be. Oh, he's also trying to build men and other crap coaches say when they don't mean it.

It's all so actively hypocritical and pretentious we're not moved one bit. My skin is made of brown leather with white laces running down my back, liquefied reels of footage from NFL Films coarses through my veins, my thoughts occasionally tumble from my mouth in blocks of football jargon, and even I don't care what happens to these people. It's like watching some wealthy divas rage against one another in hopes of boosting their own ratings. F'in Kardashians. As if sensing this is a problem, the movie tries to give us some emotional moments. Our hero's son whines a bit about his daddy issues, another father verbally berates his son about setting the record for touchdowns, and someone gets murdered. None of it carries the intended weight because winning football games is the magic kiss making all boo-boos feel better. Well, the mentally abusive dad isn't quite framed that way. However, there are a couple problems with this. First, it leads to just an unbelievably cheesy finale. I'm not sure if this is how these events played out in real life, but even if they did, they don't translate well to the screen. Second, the whole relationship between this dad and his boy is merely a watered-down G-rated version of one much better done in Friday Night Lights.

Speaking of Friday Night Lights and movies such as Varsity Blues and The Program, what makes them work better than When the Game Stands Tall is perspective. Those movies are largely told from the viewpoint of the kids on the team. Sixteen to eighteen year olds (twenty-two in The Program) are naturally at a crossroads in their lives. They are at the point where each decision they make has earth-shattering potential yet, they may not be equipped to navigate the rough waters through which they sail. They've not figured out how much importance to place on the games they play and to what degree these games define them. Here, we only get a glimpse of this with the best friend of the murdered party. Still, football heals all so even this strand of the plot fails to resonate. Everything else is seen from the vantage point of an adult whose self-worth is completely wrapped up in wins and losses on the field. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that this is a Christian movie. I have to because it's in this area where the movie makes its most egregious error. The implication is that it is the God-given right of the people of this town to have a championship high school football team that never loses. Puh-lease. This is no more divinely ordained than your entire family becoming household names because one of you had a sex tape "leak." F'in Kardashians.


  1. Christian movies.... I usually avoid those because they always have some heavy-handed message that just makes everything... blech. I don't mind religious commentary on films but not overt.

    1. Generally, I agree with you. In the case of this movie, it's biggest problem is that it spews all the Christian values early then goes against itself by worshipping at the altar of football.