Running time: 119 mins
Director: James C. Strouse
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Emma Roberts, Rob Corddry, Rooney Mara
Genre: Comedy, Sport
Down and out College Basketball coach Bill (Sam Rockwell) is slumming it bussing tables and eating leftovers when he’s given the opportunity to coach again by friend Terry (Corddry) who’s girls' team is without a coach, skill, fitness and a victory.
First off let me disclose that I love Sam Rockwell, he’s a fantastic actor who is always interesting and refreshing in every role he is in. Whether it’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Moon, Welcome To Collinwood or even Charlie’s Angels Rockwell makes everything better. The Winning Season has a distinctly generic Sports film storyline, washed up coach takes on group of losers and in attempting to turns them into winners he finds his own salvation. This is not a spoilers, it’s not going to affect your enjoyment of the film at all. It’s like telling someone who likes Romantic Comedies that the film is about a guy and a girl who can’t stand each other yet over the course of the film they’re thrown together and eventually fall in love. The Sports film is well travelled ground and it’s not what happens rather than the way in which it happens that's seemingly important in them.
Rockwell is at his best when he plays characters with flaws or shortcomings, that was the case with his Chuck Barris and the same can be said here. Bill is a drunk, an absent parent and is down right miserable but has some fantastically comedic lines. His relationship with his team is, initially, strained and comes to a head when they criticise him (mid game) about him referring to one of the other team as “the big girl” which apparently is cruel and promotes negative self image. He’s a Beta-Max player in the land of Blu-Ray yet it’s his traditional outlook in life that makes him endearing, both to the audience and to the players on his team and his relationship with the girls, primarily Kathy (Emily Rios), Abby (Emma Roberts) and Stacey (Jessica Hecht) is sweet and showcases a tenderness that he’s almost incapable of reaching around his own daughter Wendy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Rooney Mara). Rob Corddry is hilariously awkward as Terry (the School’s Headmaster), he was the saving grace of the woeful Hot Tub Time Machine, the bland What Happens in Vegas and it’s a real shame that his Sleazy Superman was left on the cutting room floor in The Muppets. His red shirt and trousers combo make him look a little like a demented superhero. His character is slightly reminiscent of David Lochary (Multiple Maniacs & Pink Flamingos) and highlights the occasional quirkiness that comes with small town
. Emma Roberts is a fine piece of casting, she has an angelic quality that comes with small town life and is enough of a resemblance to Mara that her relationship with Bill can operate on a Father-Daughter level. Since working with Joel Schumacher in Twelve she has entered the difficult post child/teen star era and only time will tell as to whether she successfully navigates it ala Dakota Fanning or becomes another casualty to sit alongside Haley Joel Osment in the awkward waiting room of stardom past. America
Strouse’s direction is conventional, unchallenging and is very much by the numbers, though not without a degree of style. The framing of the training scenes and the graphics depicting the teams run are small touches but welcoming. The decision to write and direct this particular film, after 2007’s Grace is Gone is an interesting one and one that points at a director who is chronicling aspects of life that have helped shape him and if this is the case hopefully there’s more to come from Strouse and with any luck as his voice becomes more mature and sure of itself his directorial style will become more assured and complex. It's a shame that with the talents of Rockwell, Roberts and Mara on board that (to use a Sports similie) Strouse played for the draw. With every passing Sports drama comes the opportunity to break the mold and push beyond ground previously covered. Field of Dreams is the perfect example of a Sports film that exists both within the conventions of the genre yet at the same time has chartered territory unexplored before or since.
The Winning Season coasts through the conventions of the Sports film leaving it unchallenged and as it found it. It's an enjoyable enough film but it doesn't appear to want to challenge anything, it doesn’t have many aspirations beyond making you laugh at a man who can barely deal with one daughter inherits ten.