10.19.2004

the ragin asian reviews friday night lights

as a matter of genre, sports movies are almost always supposed to make us feel better aren't they? i mean think of every sports movie you've ever seen and you'll probably remember a story that celebrates either singular human achievement or how a group of indivuduals come together in the interest of a greater purpose and then succeed. there are a few exceptions, like he got game or any given sunday, but even those movies capture that moment when one person or team is better than anything that anyone else can put up against it. on that level, friday night lights completely succeeds. there are all the requisite sports movie cliches in there. you have boobie miles, the cocky athlete who finds redemption and meaning in his own life after his spectacular failure. you have the insecure athlete in mike winchell the quarterback, who with the support of a parternal figure head coach, greg gaines. reaches his manhood. you have sports as the means in which a father and son come to understand and respect each other in the billingsleys. you have relative newcomer in chris comer, that when thrust into a leading role, fulfills his potential and is great.

unfortunately, it is precisely these reasons that the movie completely fails. i've made reference to this before, but the reason that the book is so good is that it actually highlights the failures of what i'll call the US sports culture in a larger social setting. all of the things that made the book gripping and interesting, the discussion of how race plays an integral part in how these kids and ultimately how the town experiences sports, the chapter on how the girls reproduce the patriarchal order in their role in supporting the male athletes, and how a community that is gripped by economic disaster uses sports as a coping mechanism which eventually leads to a perversion of the towns public educational priorities. all of these things were for me glaringly absent. while these themes were touched upon, they were ultimately subordinated to the main storyline of a team that overcomes adversity. what is especially troubling to me is how the movie only pays lip service to these crucial themes of the book. when they were invoked, it was almost as if the screen writers said, "ummm, we need to work in race, let's work in one line here about it....ok, we don't need to talk about race in the movie anymore."

however, other than that, it's actually a pretty good movie. the sports scenes are some of the best i've ever seen in a movie. the acting is really good too. this kind of role is right in billy bob thornton's wheelhouse. the requisite inspirational speech to rally the players is a really good one. i was crying like a baby. in a real surprise, tim mcgraw as don billingsley's father is really powerful. maybe not on the level of dwight yoakum in sling blade, but he manages to give an incredicly nuanced performance. and of course, all of the kids really hit their marks and were believable as high school kids.

for someone like me, who grew up in texas, this movie also had the added bonus of being a great trip down memory lane. so if you're from texas too, i definitely recommend it. for those of you who are looking for a very well done sports movie, i also highly recommend (unless of course, you get motion-sickness). however, if you're looking for a probing look into how sports affects us as individuals and as a community, go rent hoop dreams. i don't know, hoop dreams was a documentary, so maybe that's the only way that that kind of movie can get made. it's too bad though, because there is a much more interesting story to be told about those kids from odessa texas.

on an unrelated note, in the trailer, the musical accompaniament is "the golden age" by beck. it seems to fit well in that it invokes that desolate small town feel that is also crucial to understanding what this story is about. however, i think that the producers really missed an opportunity. my favorite song of all time is "one" by U2. from what i can remember, it's been used three times in movie trailers. if you remember, it was used in the the trailer for courage under fire and i guess it worked ok there, although i'm uncomfortable associating my favorite song in the world with a military movie. it was also used in the trailers for black hawk down, also a decent movie but again, i don't like the military connections. lastly it was completely misused in the trailer to the nicholas cage/tea leoni romantic comedy, the family man, where nicholas cage infamously utters the single cheesiest line in all of movie history, "i choose us". anyways, i think that the producers should have used "one" for the trailer for this movie.

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