Tag Archives: Basketball

The Winning Season (2009)

the winning season

Remember in “Fight Club” when Edward Norton says that when suffering from insomnia, “Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy”? Yeah, this film is kind of like that. It’s a movie shamelessly derivative of a another movie which is derivative of yet another movie. And here comes the bombshell.

I don’t like sports movies. Now you ask, why would someone who doesn’t like sports movies watch a film directly centered around girls’ basketball? Why, Sam Rockwell, of course, who can be charming and likable even in the most mediocre motion picture.

But for many a Sam Rockwell, there’s a Emma Roberts waiting to bungle up the movie. I just don’t like her in anything. To be fair, though, this time the fault isn’t Emma’s. It’s the script, which plays on every ‘inspirational sports movie’ trope known to man, and does it with the shameless belief that it will move you to tears, endear itself to you, and make you write a glowing review totally different from the one I’m writing now.

The plot is utterly familiar even if you know nothing going in– underachieving alcoholic loser and basketball-playing has-been Bill (Sam Rockwell) is working as a dishwasher when his old friend Terry urges him to coach Girls’ Basketball. The foul-mouthed, half-heartedly sexist Bill is convinced that girls playing basketball is a superfluous pastime, but he reluctantly agrees so he can quit his dishwashing job.

Right off the bat you wonder– what makes Terry think that Bill is up for coaching a bunch of high school girls? Why because he couldn’t find anyone else, of course. No one else? But I digress. Bill is a slovenly pig, a miserable knob who eats chicken fingers off of his customer’s plates and, initially at least, fails to show the girls one ounce of respect while coaching.

But you know off the bat (because this is this type of movie) that Bill will tag his ragtag team of losers and make them winners, inspiring the girls, and maybe, learning to face up to his inadequacies in the process. And of course Bill is the deadbeat father of a neglected teenage daughter (Shana Dowdeswell) and a disapproving ex-wife (Jessica Hecht) who has found Mr. Perfect and now takes every opportunity to passive-aggressively make Bill feel like shit.

As Bill gets embroiled in the girls’ individual dramas, he comes to the well-worn revelation that no, these girls don’t have game, but they have heart, and he can really make something out of their team. Even as Bill mans up and becomes a supportive coach, he isn’t really a very likable protagonist. I think it’s because he lacks any kind of substantial depth. Even his character is nothing more than a tired trope.

And does the director of this film think it’s dramatically satisfying to watch the entire basketball team haul the inebriated Bill into his apartment? It’s a fucking disgrace. If you get so drunk while coaching that you have to be carried like a baby by a bunch of 17-year-old girls, well, maybe you shouldn’t be a coach. It was shameful to watch, frankly.

Then we have the ‘big finale’ where Bill breaks into the  stadium where the climactic game is being held in full costume after being laid off and told to stay away from the team. I wonder if it was really worth it to run away from the police in a cape,  a wig, and full body paint as opposed to, y’know, waiting it out and taking the girls out for Shoney’s afterward.

Despite the film’s flaws (and boy, are they many,) most of the girls give charming performances (including Rooney Mara in a pre- Dragon Tattoo role) and Emma Roberts (as the pragmatic Abbie) isn’t as insufferable as usual. Let me put it this way- if you like basketball and cheesy, feel-good movies, you might like this, so don’t cross it off your to-see list yet.  I guess I’m the wrong audience for this movie. All I know is that Sam Rockwell can do better, and has.

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Air Bud (1997)

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Okay, so I like “Air Bud.” What can I say?- I was a 90’s kid. Unfairly maligned because of its truly awful sequels, “Air Bud” certainly isn’t the best ‘boy and his dog’ movie out there, but you could do worse for a rainy Saturday afternoon with the kids. Sure, there’s more slapstick than a “The Three Stooges” episode (rule of thumb- if there’s a decadent cake introduced at the beginning of a scene in a children’s movie, said cake will be fallen into before the sequence is done,) but there’s genuine heart  too. Maybe I’m seeing it through the distorted lens of a former soppy, dog-loving preteen, but I believe it’s there.

12-year-old Josh Framm (Kevin Zegers) is having a rough year- his pilot dad died in a plane crash, he’s starting up at a new school, and the bullies have picked him as the target for mild but annoyingly insistent bullying.) Josh has probably been struck by the puberty fairy too, though the more sensitive implications of this have not been touched on for obvious reasons. He’s moody, distant, and unresponsive to his mother (Wendy Makkena)’s attempts to reach him.

Into Josh’s life walks Buddy, an abused, highly intelligent Golden Retriever on the run from his children’s entertainer owner, Norm Snively (Michael Jeter) who’s not a very nice man at all. Buddy takes some urging due to his fear of people, but ultimately proves to be a good and loyal friend to the lonely Josh. Soon, it is revealed that Buddy has a secret- he can play basketball!- and the lovable dog serves as an icebreaker to help Josh get over his shyness and play sports with his classmates.

I really like the late Michael Jeter as a character actor- unfortunately, he doesn’t have much to do here except be knocked into everything. Still, he’s fine in the role he was given, and offers a few laughs (mostly to very small children.) Nevertheless, “Air Bud” is a cute movie with several good subplots going for it. One of these concerns Arthur Chaney (Bill Cobbs,) a former basketball star who now works as a simple janitor at Josh’s school, and offers his friendship and guidance to Josh and ultimately, to the team.

The heart of the film is Josh and Buddy’s relationship, which is carried out effectively for this kind of movie. By allowing plenty of scenes of Josh and Buddy simply spending time together, the movie lets us root for their friendship- which is threatened when the dastardly Norm returns on the scene. I like the way Buddy is allowed to act like a dog, despite his extraordinary sports-playing talents, and I like how Josh has to win his trust by laying down a trail of vanilla pudding containers.

Frankly, I still like this movie from when I was a kid and I enjoyed watching it with my 11-year-old sister and listening to her laugh. “Air Bud” isn’t a great movie by any means, but it’s cute and charming and fun. Let me just save you the time and tell you not to watch the sequels. If your kids have any sense, even they will hate them.
air bud