By Don Simpson | September 3, 2010
Director: James C. Strouse
Writer: James C. Strouse
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Shareeka Epps, Emily Rios, Rooney Mara, Emma Roberts, Rob Corddry
Oh Bill (Sam Rockwell), you have fallen so far! In your prime, you were a high school basketball star; now we find you busing tables at what looks like one of those chain restaurants that is barely a notch above fast-food (you know, like Applebee’s and TGI Fridays).
An emotional mess – a failed husband and father, a successful alcoholic (according to Hollywood, aren’t all high school coaches?) – things finally start looking up for Bill once he is recruited by an ex-teammate turned high school principal, Terry (Rob Corddry), to coach the girls varsity basketball team.
With no other options available to him, Bill accepts Terry’s offer despite the fact that Bill has been hated by every female he has ever met.
Bill visibly regrets his decision the very first second that he lays his eyes on his new team. They are an unimpressive lot, and there are not a lot of them. In fact, there are only six of them (counting Mindy [Melanie Hinkle], who will be unable to play the season due to a broken foot): Abbie (Emma Roberts) is the team captain, but only because she is the peppiest; Tamra (Meaghan Witri) is the mountainous feminist; Wendy (Rooney Mara) has a thing for slimy older men who look like pedophiles; Lisa (Shareeka Epps) is the team’s sole black player; Kathy (Emily Rios) is the team’s token Latina player, and their best shooter.
Every word that Bill says to his team oozes with frustration, condescension and sexism; and the girls have no problem dishing attitude right back at him. As the title of the film suggests, the team does pull itself together and they begin improving each game – despite his lack of political correctness, Bill is one heck of a coach. The girls also begin to feel sorry for Bill and they band together to help him navigate the rocky waters of alcoholism and his deteriorating relationship with his daughter Molly (Shana Dowdeswell).
In case you have not already guessed, The Winning Season is an underdog sports comedy – and it has no qualms with referencing previous underdog sports comedies such as The Bad News Bears and Hoosiers. The Winning Season is an affecting and realistic take on the genre, choosing to touch upon some serious issues such as alcoholism, broken homes and teenage sexual awakening. Unfortunately, the film completely fails in its attempt to create a realistic relationship between the team and their coach and the team itself turns out to be just another ragtag collection of exaggerated stereotypes.
Nonetheless, Rockwell is impeccably hilarious and likable in his portrayal of this boozy and self-pitying character. Every line Rockwell recites is pure gold and his physical comedy (which hits its high water mark during the film’s finale) is topnotch. (This is probably not the most appropriate place for me to proclaim my man-crush on Sam Rockwell, is it? Why he was not even nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his leading role in Duncan Jones’ Moon is still a complete mystery to me.)
I was quite excited to receive an advanced screener of The Winning Season, not only because it features Rockwell in the leading role but also because it was written and directed by James C. Strouse (Grace Is Gone); but other than Rockwell’s performance, I have to admit I was somewhat underwhelmed.