Champions takes the traditional beats that entail a heartwarming story with sports. The movie comes complete with a gruff, rude, unlikeable character, Marcus (Woody Harrelson). He, naturally, undergoes a redemptive arc throughout the film. While takes of horrible people becoming decent human beings after an eye-opening experience are tiresome, the movie has more than that.
However, what stands out for the movie is two things. The first is Woody Harrelson. The second is the representation of an oft-neglected demographic. With that brilliant combination, Champions rises, becoming more than a clichéd tale full of heart. It reveals common misconceptions about people with intellectual disabilities, all with an enticing sports tale.
Champions’ Marcus Has Rough Edges
Directed by Bobby Farrelly with a screenplay by Mark Rizzo, the movie, based on the film Campeones written by David Marqués and directed by Javier Fesser, follows the socially bankrupt Marcus.
Marcus only cares about basketball. After a one-night stand with an equally emotionally closed-off Alex (Kaitlin Olson), he jots notes for the night’s game. But he is the assistant coach, while Coach Phil (Ernie Hudson) calls the shots. When an argument downgrades into Marc shoving Phil, he’s sent home and later fired. Hence, Marcus drowns his sorrows and, while drunk driving, hits a police car. So he’s given two options, jail or 90 days of community service coaching a team of intellectually disabled basketball players.
Working with this team helps Marcus develop social skills, but also empathy and affection for human beings, not just their value to the game. He only took the time to know his previous teams’ talents on the court, with no never mind to their personal lives.
His crew gives personal details about their lives, whether he wants to know them or not. Woody Harrelson portrays that grumpy exterior wonderfully. He shows the anger, confusion, and encroaching warmth Marcus tries to hide. The rest of the cast shine, bringing hilarious and genuine representation to the screen. They are not actors playing disabled characters but actors with disabilities delivering comical, sweet performances.
Each brings their talents and makes their respective characters shine. Kevin Iannucci, who plays Johnny, inspires laughter and trepidation since Johnny refuses to shower. Joshua Felder encapsulates the withdrawn and tight-lipped Darius, and Madison Tevlin’s character Consentino blends strength, danger, and chuckles. She’s not one you cross.
To a degree, the film reminds me of As Good As It Gets. But, again, this one improves on other films because it’s people with those experiences bringing those characters to life. So they capture the nuances.
A Music-Laden Jam
Musically, Champions has an entertainingly strong selection. From Chumbawba’s “Tubthumping” to “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” to Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” there is plenty of music to immerse you in the film. The collection of bops makes your shoulders pop as though you’re Bigfoot in A Goofy Movie.
The music is like an accent piece in this delightfully warm film. As the players journey to improve and Marcus journeys to being a human being that cares, songs capture a lightheartedness. This film is not dramatic or traumatic but a lesson. It’s never too late to be better than you were yesterday. These cheerful, catchy songs add to that.
Still, a Questionable Focus
Champions has plenty of laughs and happy sighs, thanks to its entire cast. The pinky moment could be lifted from my life when my mom said she “thinks” she broke her pinky toe. However, looking past how films use marginalized identities and experiences for white growth is hard.
Yes, people around us either help or hinder our growth. But that is an offshoot of connecting. Marcus’ relationship is that they are a means to avoid incarceration. Arguably, Marcus views everyone in a selfish, goal-oriented nature. But it doesn’t detract that marginalized identities are always the ones who “enlighten” the ignorant. They are the lesson for change, and it’s exhausting and diminishing.
On the other hand, Champions explores rare subjects, like the way people can latch onto a disabled family member as a reason to keep their life on hold. There’s safety in having an excuse for standing still. But it ultimately hurts both parties. Neither has an opportunity for growth. Breaking down the rampant assumptions, Champions highlights that many people with disabilities can do much more than given credit.
Representation offers an additional layer that makes Champions compelling. Stories of this nature rarely include a story about a disabled person, let alone a group of disabled people. You can count on one hand how many films offer that level of inclusivity. Hopefully, future films will not just have disabled characters as the source of change for the lead, but the leads themselves. Until then, Champions overshadows prior films by presenting a story of growth with smiles and laughter that revels in representation.
Champions opens in theaters this weekend.
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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.