A Film Review By Jason L. King
|Rating:Rated PG-13 for thematic issues, sexual content, language, some teen drinking and rough sports action
Starring:Billy Bob Thorton, Derek Luke, Tim McGraw
Directed By:Peter Berg
Critics are calling Friday Night Lights the Greatest sports story ever told. I’ve been told time and time again I am a hack and my opinion doesn’t hold a candle to a real critic’s point of view. Thank God for that, because if I were a “real” critic I would apparently have to tell you that Friday Night Lights was the greatest sports story ever told.
Living in Iowa, I realized I don’t know what High School Football obsession is like. I grew up in a town that worshiped their football Coach and I believe the “Ron Wymer-dome” will be constructed over our hometown high school football field after our town’s beloved football God, North Fayette Head Coach Ron Wymer finally retires. As I grew up and out of my High School days I moved on and realized that others laugh at how seriously some people take the Friday Night games these kids play. Apparently they’ve never been to Odessa Texas.
Based on a true story, Friday Night Lights was originally a book that nearly every athlete in my high school read. If a teacher couldn’t get the jock to do anything more than scribble his name on a piece of paper she would hand them a copy of that book and tell them to do an oral book report on that. One by one, they paraded up and talked about how the book was the greatest thing they had ever read. One of my classmates and fellow athletes actually stood up and said it was the only book he has ever read. The story follows the Odessa-Periman Mojo Panthers, a high school football team that has a whole town of support. Football is everything in the school district, and the whole town lives, eats and breathes high school football. Friday Night Lights is their story of how their team went to the state championships.
I hated this film. A few years back I watched Varsity Blues and said the same thing. I look back now and say Varsity Blues is a true gem compared to this story. The book may be excellent, I admit to not knowing this, but what I do know is the movie is not. From start to finish I could not figure out why I should care about this cocky, obnoxious group of athletes who from beginning to end reach no cathartic moment, have no epiphanies and don’t really have to over come that much adversity. If there was conflict in the film it would be their star player ending up injured. The problem with this was, as quickly as they made that seem like it was a big deal they filled the gap with a 3rd string player and picked up their winning streak after one loss. Add that up with enough losses that their road to the State Championships is left to the flip of a coin and it makes me wonder, what exactly did they overcome?
When your characters don’t evolve I wonder why should I cheer for them? From the beginning you knew they were good, and they didn’t seem to be a team of underdogs until the very end. By then it seemed as though I should suddenly cheer for them because they were the underdogs in the big game. Up until then, I found myself never really caring if they won or lost, or really cared anything about the team at all.
I think I was supposed to feel sorry for this team because of the pressures the town put on them. But instead I found it funny. The whole town was filled with Uncle Rico’s (From Napoleon Dynamite) and I was waiting for just one of them to break into a monologue (..”Back in ’82 if coach wudda put me in, we wudda won state.”) The town people just made me laugh. The film made them look like gun totin’ West Texas trailer park trash, right down to their giant cowboy boots, big belt buckles and chewin tobacco. It’s really hard for me to join that crowd in cheering on the team. That’s like asking a die-hard Van Halen Fan to become a groupie for a Garth Brooks Concert tour.
Even the talent felt wasted. I usually like Billy Bob Thorton. I even enjoyed The Alamo based on his performance. But even Billy Bob didn’t save this flick for me. The film just didn’t give him a chance to give me anything memorable. There was no great speech, no eloquent lines spoken by him, not much of anything. I guess I expected more out of a great actor. The surprise of the film was Tim McGraw who plays an alcoholic father. While his performance is nothing to write home about, it was a job well done.
In the end, they tried to make Friday Night Lights too dramatic. I think it made the film worse. Films like Miracle, Remember the Titans and hell even the Mighty Ducks had you rooting by the end. That’s because you grew with the team. You watched them become better and better. You felt like they overcame an obstacle. I didn’t feel that in this film.
As I look back on this film, I am sad that I spent my time on it. While it is not a complete waste, I expected so much more. Friday Night Lights the movie is a lot like my High school experience for me. I didn’t really enjoy it while I was there, I was really happy when it was over and I look back and laugh at the people who thought High School Moments and high school friends were the things that mattered most in your life. If Friday Night Lights taught me nothing else, It taught me that I hope my children grow up to be band geeks and computer nerds and I hope that I don’t have to sell my soul to a job in Texas.
SPOILER (Thats Right Folks- Jason Gives you a Chance to learn the ending here so you don’t waste you time in the theaters. Just Highlight below!
After wasting your time for a few hours the team Loses by a yard in the big game. The players go home upset and carry on with their lives. A little “where are they now thing” pops up for each of the players and tells us that they all became Truck Drivers, Insurance Salesmen etc. and pretty much still live near Odessa Texas.