Timothy Vandenberg and his intrepid cast and crew have managed to put a film on the field that scores on many levels. For those interested in gridiron action there is little to savour in the infrequent, somewhat blurry plays that serve more to support the conceit than drive the action. In fact, the members of the New Hanover High School Wildcats never enter into the plot, leaving those anticipating the obligatory shower-room scene reduced to renting Porky’s for their fix of Trojan or nubile delights.
But those who love to laugh will be rewarded many times over: Who knew that humping a lawn ornament (“Lawrence, I’ll call you tomorrow” soon to become a classic Iine—a woody of the highest order), winning a fishing tournament with a snagged larynx or trying out for the last spot on the Frisbee all-star team would produce belly laughs on the first down?
Yet, the real success of this, at times, wandering collage of the lives of three former players who haunt the bleachers every Friday night, is the marvellous look into their sorry lives. America’s most storied game serves as the willing catalyst for the quartet of writers (Billy Lewis, Keith Minor, Mark Robinson and Vandenberg) to make their social commentaries with metaphorical zingers (“blown play = blown life”), bawdy/body humour (coach-for-four-days Nathan Dansby—hilariously rendered by Christopher “Phifer” Blanchard and oh-so-tellingly close to “Dandy”—strips to his jock and brazenly huddles with a bevy of admiring babes) and spot-on odes to dysfunctional families everywhere: heavyweight Larry Dowd’s (Minor) appearance at his estranged granny’s birthday party—replete with candles from hell that require the octogenarian’s spittle to quash the flames—runs off the clock with Grandpa’s family gossip game-ender: “I hear you’re playing for the other team.”
The star of it all is Mark Darby Robinson’s depiction of “The Chuck.” With an overbite that would make orthodontists salivate and a deep love of the Budweiser family, the fifty-something widower (see fishing, above) shares a house boat with a long-bearded Silent Bob type and slips into a life-ending depression when school board budget cuts shut down his football fix. (Here’s where the script most certainly convinces as fiction: bussing and special education teachers would be axed before the field of dreams.)
And so the three principals band together through their haze of booze, calorie over-indulgence and a child molestation restraining order to come up with a plan to raise the cash to get the boys back into their helmets, straps and pads. When the big day arrives (of course it has to involve some sort of game—even if flags and former celebrities replace tackles, sophomores and seniors) the film picks up pace and poignancy even as the plan fails as much as the pathetic existence of its masterminds (John Steinbeck is smiling from his other-world bar stool with Mac and the boys). Even as the happy ending comes about (the Wildcats resurrect, play and win—magnificently heralded by the stellar trumpet calls from Mike Jarosz), there remains one more butt to kick, the importance of which will puzzle only those who came solely for the scores and yuks. JWR