Friday Night Lights brought back a lot of horrible memories
for me. It's the story of the ultra-competitive world of Texas
high school football and the importance put on winning, at the
cost of dignity, respect and education. And, if I can be serious
for once, this is a world I know all too well. I know how dehumanized
a kid can feel when the pressure to win is heaped on his shoulders.
I'm too familiar with the misery and stress associated with being
expected to prop up the egos of the losers in your town, and to
represent an entire community's pride.
really fucking hard. Well, anyway, that's what I remember from
reading Matt Christopher's "Catcher With a Glass Arm" and "Touchdown
for Tommy." Shit, those were great books with valuable lessons.
The kind that, along with certain letters in Penthouse Forum and
a couple knock-knock jokes, prepare you for life better than any
teacher who makes fun of your homemade pants. It made a kid like
me think I was right in the middle of the action. I no longer
felt like a boy afraid to leave his bedroom or suit up for sports
because I didn't want to be naked in a locker room. Suddenly,
I was in a uniform, a football player afraid to tackle and a catcher
afraid to throw.
than that, my own sports experiences are limited to getting hit
in the nuts while playing third in Little League, then throwing
my glove at the umpire in anger. When he wouldn't give it back
my career was over. I also played flag football, but I never went
after the flag; I tried to get the whole pants. And those were
from my own teammates, while we were on the sideline. That's not
to say I'm not competitive. I am, very much so. But nothing sucks
more than being competitive and shitty. The logical thing to do
if you hate losing is never play.
only other competitive experience was joining the high school's
Academic Decathlon team. Not voluntarily, really. It was instead
of being expelled for stealing library books. The Academic Decathlon
was a wits-matching competition against other high schools and
each school had to have a mix of A, B and C students on its team.
So, for the As the teachers picked the best the school had, for
the Bs they picked underachievers, and for Cs like me they picked
complete and total lazy fuckups, thinking, "He can't possibly
be that stupid." That's where I came in. Not only was I a lazy
fuckup, but they could extort me into playing. I'm not sure what
the Decathlon organizer's reasoning was behind having C students
compete. They thought we loved being mediocre so much we wanted
to compete to prove who was most mediocre?
one experience in the spotlight, answering trigonometry questions
in front of hundreds of eggheaded kids in some other schools'
gymnasium gives me untold insight into the pressure of high school
competition. Confusing sine and cosine while your drunken aeronautics
engineer father yells from the bleachers that if I were in charge
our astronauts would all be dead is heartbreaking and embarrassing.
Climbing into the stands and wrestling him is even more so. Losing
the brawl and falling out of the bleachers is worse yet. Then
having to ask him for a ride home is the pits, man. There is nothing
warm or humane about losing the spelling portion by points and
then having your teacher challenge the judges. Seeing the word
"igneous" spur a riot that leaves three potential valedictorians
in the hospital with severe slap bruises and chunks of scalp ripped
off their skulls is enough to make a kid wish he weren't such
a disappointment to everyone.
I identify with the kids of Friday Night Lights who live
in a small, dirty Texas town where the expectation is to win the
state football championship, and anything less is unacceptable.
The kids are expected to play football, to love it and to use
it as their ticket out of a shitty town. The town elders, with
their own lives long gone to hell, have nothing to obsess over
except football, and they crank the pressure up.
Bob Thornton plays a well-compensated coach directing a team with
a superstar running back toward the state finals. Of course, the
star (Derek Luke) tears up his knee during the first game. The
misfits and secondary players have to step up and fill in. In
typical sports story fashion, the insecure quarterback (Lucas
Black) with the sick mom has to prove his mettle. So does the
scaredy-pants second-string running back and a boy whose father
was once a football star and now angrily drinks his way through
life. Through grit and determination, they make it to the State
Championship game, where they go up against a group of giants
from the big city of Dallas. I won't give away the ending, because
I thought the movie was alright. But, I will say that as hard
as it tries to be different Friday Night Lights falls back
on the same old sports story cliches.
only one sports movie I've ever seen that has a perfect ending.
That's The Bad News Bears. Every other one that ends with
a BIG game reeks of melodrama more than authenticity. Friday
Night Lights is no exception. It's shot well, and looks good.
The sports scenes mostly look genuine, except for the sheer volume
of unrealistically close plays and spectacular tackles. The main
problem is that for a movie that wants to show us how fucked up
a town obsessed with football is, it sure as hell spends a lot
of time on the field. And, a hell of a lot of bad is remedied
there, too. I walked away with the feeling that, okay, I guess
the movie really does think football is important. Either that,
or the director, Peter Berg, is afraid to tell a human story and
thinks filming lots of long bombs easier and more gratifying.
it does get human, Friday Night Lights goes for easy melodrama.
Every little story wraps up neatly. One boy's abusive, alcoholic
father is suddenly transformed into a nice, sensitive guy. The
kids aren't harmed by the pressure put on them, they just mope.
And we even get a cheesy coda about the stars at the end. There
are hints at what the story could be; Odessa is dying, the people
are drinking themselves to death. But every time one of these
interesting things might come up, it's back to the field.
important thing that gets set up and never played out is Thornton's
role as coach. We're supposed to root for him as a family man,
a guy feeling the downward pressure of the community. We're supposed
to sympathize with him facing the possibility of moving every
year when his team doesn't win. Yet, he takes a huge salary for
a high-school football coach, and implicit in that is success.
And he comes back the year after this story. He is sketched so
stoically and minimally that his perspective on the damage parents
do to kids is worthless. If his character also thinks football
is this important, fuck him. He deserves to lose every game. The
movie could have explored what it's like to live in Odessa, but
it pussed out.
Night Lights ain't a bad movie, it's just not very deep. I'll
give it Three Fingers. I wish we could have seen more of
the long-term effects of this competitive nature, though. Maybe
just so I'd understand all the ways the Academic Decathlon is
responsible for me being the failure I am today. It's sure would
be nice to have something to blame.
and by the way, I had my interview at Glee's Hallmark for their
job stocking cards and knick-knacks for the holiday season. I
think the job's in the bag, but I'll let you know for sure next
Filthy || Want to tell Filthy