🏈 Let's overthink a football movie
This week: Friday Night Lights, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and more.
Hey! Hope you’re having a great weekend. I wound up watching the Oscars last Sunday, in spite of my ambivalence, and they were … fine. The ending was bad, the “In Memoriam” speedrun was worse, and the camerawork was sometimes awkward, but I liked the more intimate setting and the fact that they didn’t try to cut off acceptance speeches. I expect next year will be all about “back to normal,” though.
I chatted a little about the Oscars with Slate’s Allegra Frank on the latest episode of my podcast, Follow Friday, but we spent most of the time talking about the wonderful people she follows online, including the weirdest pick in the young history of the show. Don’t miss this episode, it’s real fun.
Anyway, time to make some people mad.
🤔 “The hopes and dreams of an entire town are riding on your shoulders.”
I was so ready to like Friday Night Lights (the movie), about which I’ve heard good things over the years, but … sigh.
Other than an emotionally resonant performance by Derek Luke and the in-game scenes — which really captured the brutality of American football — I couldn’t connect with this film. For fleeting moments, it (correctly) raises an eyebrow at the all-consuming life-destroying obsession with high school football in its setting of Odessa, Texas. But mostly, it squeezes itself into the box of a conventional sports movie.
I get that in small towns like Odessa, just like everywhere else, people need activities to bond over and stuff to talk about. But in the movie, we see children being screamed at, beaten, terrorized, and being pressured to endure life-altering injuries or abandon their families, because football. This is a movie from 2004 set in 1988, so there’s no allusion to the risk of permanent brain damage, but I couldn’t help but think about that, piled on top of all the other indignities the kids face.
We also see the people of Odessa threatening the coach, played by Billy Bob Thornton, for the same implicit reason: Winning a game is more important than human life and happiness. But the final message of the movie isn’t “burn it all down” — it’s “yes, this sort of behavior is justified.”
Friday Night Lights gives us a good reason why the KIDS playing for the Permian Panthers — although not a one of them looks plausibly teenage — care about football; for the stars on the team, it could be their ticket out of town. But almost everyone else, including Thornton, says or does things to the players that should not be glazed over. I was quietly hoping the last scene in the movie would be the SWAT division of Child Protective Services arriving to evacuate all football-playing children out of Odessa.
Friday Night Lights ★★★ - On Starz and DirecTV.
Other stuff I’ve watched recently
Monty Python’s Life of Brian ★★★★ - If you had asked me a couple years ago, I would have said I preferred Monty Python’s Life of Brian to their earlier film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Having revisited both recently, though, I think my tastes have changed over time and the opposite is now true. Both films are great in their own ways, and Brian has streaks of cynical brilliance, as well as several quotable and rewatchable scenes. But I’d forgotten that, unlike the more consistent Holy Grail, Brian’s greatness is propped up by a fair bit of less memorable, chuckle-worthy-at-best material.
2 Fast 2 Furious ★★★½ - I went in with low expectations (the secret to happiness) and was almost never bored with this movie, which was good enough! The original film’s supporting cast is noticeably absent, and Paul Walker can’t really carry a whole movie by himself, but Tyrese Gibson arrives as an entertaining ex-BFF, and Cole Hauser is surprisingly scary as the villain, Carter Verone. The story is simple, the script is pretty dumb, but the driving scenes are still a hoot.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier ★★★½ - A lesser entry in the MCU, this six-episode miniseries had moments of profundity and some cool action, but it would’ve been better as a movie — and perhaps with a different writer. The plot seemed rushed and disjointed, maybe because there was allegedly going to be a pandemic subplot that Marvel had to cut out in the edit. The goodwill I have for these characters and the stars’ chemistry carries the show over the finish line, but this was not their best outing.
You can follow me on Twitter and Letterboxd. The latter is where you’ll also find my (ongoing) list of every movie I’ve seen in 2021, ranked, as well as my ranking of the entire MCU, including WandaVision and Falcon/Winter Soldier.
Leave your reactions, questions, recommendations, and Monty Python quotes in the comments below.