Sports has been one of the many casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic. While no one would count the loss of sports among the biggest casualties, or the return of sports a top priority, its absence is definitely making the heart grow fonder. Never in my life has there been a period without sports. It’s always been the great escape for whatever is ailing the world, for myself and so many others. Which makes it odder is to not have it when a distraction is needed now more than ever. So, while there are much bigger things in the world than sports, I still have to admit…man, I miss sports. So here at MovieBabble, we are coping with this by revisiting some classic sports movies!
It’s true what they say about football in the south, it’s a religion. Down here in Florida, this religion is unavoidable. High School football, specifically, is so ingrained in the culture that you have a connection even if you don’t care for the sport. On Friday nights, a football stadium is where you need to be. The bright lights, raucous crowd, and band create a unique experience. My favorite way to watch a live sporting event is leaning against a chain-link fence on a Friday night with a high school fight song in the background. I’m getting chills just thinking about it. So when I sit down to watch a football movie, especially in this climate, that’s the feeling I’m chasing. No football movie captures this feeling better than Friday Night Lights.
June is not a football month. Typically, I am deep into my fantasy football research and I’m sticking close to my preferred Raiders blog, but, in general, this is one of the few months that isn’t dominated by football. So, why choose a football movie? It’s simple, I miss football. Furthermore, there is a real question about the state of football come fall, especially at the High School level. As of this writing, there is no clear plan for any level of football. With us being less than two months away from High School football, there’s a good chance there will be no High School football, or at least a vastly different experience than what I described earlier. Now seems like a perfectly great time to revisit one of my favorite sports movies and the inspiration for one of my favorite TV shows.
Football is a sport that has provided plenty of good films. Each bringing a unique perspective to the game. Varsity Blues is the first football movie I remember loving. Its portrayal of the game is more honest than most, but its appeal comes from its depiction of Texas High School football. That was the first time I saw something that mirrored what I grew up with, and it’s great. Friday Night Lights ups the ante because it’s far more grounded.
Varsity Blues leans more into the Oliver Stone style of portraying football. While that’s far (very far) from bad, it’s more interested in the reverence of the gladiator aspect of the game, as opposed to a more grounded depiction of the game. Here is where Peter Berg really shines. Friday Night Lights feels incredibly real. It’s based on a book about real people, so authenticity is baked into the pie, but the level and detail of which is masterful. This is a truly great film, with some solid performances and very good filmmaking.
Background and Stats
- Released October 8th, 2004
- $61,000,000 worldwide on a $30,000,000 budget
- 70 metascore/81% on Rotten Tomatoes
- ESPY for best sports movie and no other notable awards or nominations
- rogerebert.com gave it 3 1/2 stars (Roger Ebert)
- Favorite Review Quote — Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter: The film lets you get caught up in the excitement of this religion and the addictive nature of those stadium lights. Berg and cinematographer Tobias Schliessler get up close to the action, catching the hits and miscues in all their violent urgency.
Let’s Talk About That Cast
This is quite an interesting cast to look back at. There is a mixture of established actors of the time, with future stars and a few that didn’t make it. Billy Bob Thornton leads the cast and does a very good job in his role as Coach Gary Gaines. It’s a more subdued role and almost thankless, in the sense that he’s the glue that holds this whole thing together. Everyone in the film bounces off him. Except for Derek Luke’s Boobie Miles, which needs no one to bounce off because there is enough charisma there to fill up a room. Luke is excellent in this role. He gives the full spectrum of emotion but more importantly, he captures the larger than life persona of the character.
Also sprinkled throughout this cast is Lucas Black (whom I like quite a bit), Jay Hernandez, Garrett Hedlund, Tim McGraw, Connie Britton (whom I love), and even a brief appearance from Amber Heard. It’s an impressive list of names.
Not among those names but certainly worthy is Lee Thompson Young. Young plays Chris Comer and it’s bittersweet to see him each time I watch. He died from suicide in 2013. He was an actor that I connected with because of how important this film is to me, but also from his Disney Channel run as The Famous Jett Jackson and Sam Sterling in Johnny Tsunami, both of which were important to my childhood. He’s a good actor and is very good in this film. Sadly, he’s gone but it is always nice to see him here.
Authenticity is a big part of why Friday Night Lights works and a lot of credit must be given to Peter Berg and also cinematographer, Tobias A. Schliessler. It’s a kinetic camera that feels like a handheld. Awkward zooms and constant shaking creates the feeling that you are actually there and this is more so documentation, rather than a dramatization. Schliessler’s cinematography is the soul of this film’s authenticity. Without it, this is just another sports movie. Nothing more.
Favorite Sports Moment
Count Toss to Make the Playoffs
Second Half vs Dallas Carter
This is an easy choice: it’s the first game. In this game, we get to see the Permian Panthers at full strength. They are positioned as a powerhouse team and the favorite to win state. The first practice shows a small picture of that, but it’s this game that fully shows their capabilities. We see the Boobie Miles show in full effect, but beyond that, the full picture of how good this team is. With the exhilarating positives of the greatness of this team also comes the tragedy of Boobie’s injury. I still remember the first time watching this film and how shocking this injury is. It’s truly sad to see, along with being great storytelling because of just how quickly the tone of the story shifts, and this great team now becomes the underdog. This game has it all.
No Way, There In This!?
Connie Britton and Brad Leland
As a lover of this film, I am also a lover of the show. I actually like the show more. Two main staples of the show are Connie Britton’s Tami Taylor and Brad Leland’s Buddy Garrity. Both are great in the show! It’s been quite a while since I’ve revisited this film, so imagine my shock when two main characters for one of my favorite TV shows appear here in similar roles! It’s so cool to see them in Friday Night Lights and it makes me want to watch the show again, where they both have much more to do.
What I’d Take Out
The depiction of Dallas Carter
I understand that Mojo is the hero of this story and that they are the loveable underdogs. I also understand the need to create real drama by putting them across from a team as the villain. Why, though, does the all-black school have to be portrayed as thugs, cheats, arrogant showboaters, and dirty players? The depiction of this Dallas Carter team is quite offensive because it calls back to this idea of the right way (white way?) to play sports.
The idea that an opposing team can be made the big bad of a story merely by using stereotypes is wild. From the visors to the sleeves to the attitude of not just the players, but everyone associated with Dallas Carter, plays on a stereotype of the “wrong way to play the game.” When you then add in the coaching staff’s concern over fair treatment before the game, making a condescending argument about zebra stripes, you now have a real problem.
And Black Players in General
Interestingly enough, this isn’t merely a problem with the Dallas Carter players. The portrayal of Black people throughout the story is poor. Boobie Miles is the star of the team, and probably the most talented player in the film, but everyone on the team hates him because of his attitude. He’s arrogant, lazy, and off-putting. For him to be the one that is humbled is tough to watch, especially when the “savior” of the season is the more palatable black guy (Comer). But these two personalities at odds are frustrating to watch.
With this coming from a true story, all of the characteristics may be accurate portrayals. Maybe Boobie was truly like that while Comer and Preacher were the opposite. However, with an inaccurate depiction of Dallas Carter, it’s harder to give the benefit of the doubt. Seeing two black kids in the film being admired and revered for their quiet demeanor that resembles more of what white America wants from its athletes sends a message. It says this is the way you should play our game. To be accepted and loved you have to play this way, the “white way.”
When watching sports movies, one of the first things I do is identify my favorite player. Typically, this is a blend of who is the most entertaining, talented, and relatable. In Friday Night Lights, there is only one choice, and it’s not even close, I love Boobie Miles! What’s not to love? His swagger and confidence is something I enjoy, especially when he backs it up the way he does. Boobie is a flashy personality, no doubt, but he’s also a tough player. He finishes plays seeking contact and punishes tacklers. He goes across the middle on receptions and takes the punishment required for those plays. There isn’t anything he can’t do, as his uncle helpfully points out during their practice. The kid is incredible to watch!
I would watch the movie where Boobie Miles stays healthy and dominates the ’88 season. While it would be significantly less dramatic, it would still be incredibly entertaining.
Boobie Leaving the Team
This should come as no surprise based on the last section. I love Boobie, and even though I know a torn ACL wouldn’t let him come back in the same season, nor would the emotional stakes of the film allow it, I still hold out hope. Watching him come back versus Midland Lee and be a shell of himself while getting injured again is gut-wrenching, but the truly devastating moment comes when he’s in the car with his uncle crying. It’s extraordinary acting by Derek Luke and he captures how sad it is for Boobie. He’s apologizing to his uncle because he was going to change his life and there no longer appears to be a path to any type of success. This moment breaks me every time.
It’s time to give Peter Berg his well-deserved flowers. There is a lot I love about Friday Night Lights, but the major player here is Berg. He brings together all of the wonderful parts of this film to make something wholly unique and authentic. The film is just great. He creates a style with the cinematography that is immediately identifiable to this film. He blends that with a script that honors the team it’s depicting, while creating real drama and tension. The Dallas Carter depiction is surely a blemish, but it’s one that he successfully rectifies in the TV show.
Speaking of which, the show is another reason he’s the MVP here. He’s able to take the incredible movie and then turn it into an even better show, creating a passionate and loyal fan base. Berg essentially creates a new franchise that will surely be revisited in the future.
Did I Get My Fix?
As much as I love Friday Night Lights, I didn’t really. This felt more like an appetizer for the main course, which, in this case, is the show. I want to watch the series now and I suspect that would satiate my need for High School football. Not to say I didn’t fully enjoy my time with this film, because I did. It’s really good and, even with its problematic elements, it’s inspiring. The beauty in its authenticity is incredible, along with being quite entertaining. I didn’t get my fix because my appetite is large — I just need more!
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on Friday Night Lights? Comment down below!
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