It takes place in Tennessee rather than Texas, at an all-black rather than mixed race high school; there’s the volunteer and truly amazing real-life Coach Bill Courtney instead of Coach Taylor and it’s a documentary feature instead of a fictional TV series. But it bears some fine resemblance to the landmark series FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS—all in 114 minutes rather than seven seasons.
Yes, it’s the usual against-the-odds-triumph story with heart (the Memphis Tigers never won a play-off game since the school was founded in 1899), but stands out from simple formula in the portrayals of the team’s brilliantly moving coach and two particular critical players. An undersized but tough-minded linebacker nicknamed Money does everything right, including academically and in his team-playing, while, Chavis, back from fifteen months in juvenile detention, directs well-honed anger-management issues both at the team and his former friend Money. How the two players come to switch roles through unexpected personal adversities is one of the many fine personal foci in this justifiably rousing film.
The true meaning of the title is what the film’s about. You’ll have to watch it.
THE SEDUCTION OF JOE TYNAN — This is an early film that turned me on—in every sense of the word—to Meryl Streep. I saw it in a theater 33 years ago and it’s just come out on DVD. It’s a way to see how Streep initially lit up the screen with her commanding talent and the seasoned performer she’s since become.
It’s not the only reason to see this film.
Compellingly candid and at times humorously written by its co-star Alan Alda (playing the liberal New York senator Joe Tynan), this film is surprisingly up-to-date about family and politics—and whether the hybrid energy required by both is able to keep them on the same road. The film is poignant and subtle.
In a boisterous Washington arm-twisting kitchen scene, one conservative southern senator (Rip Torn) passes around his homemade gumbo while his aging colleague (Melvin Douglas) tries to get Tynan to swallow a critical Republican Supreme Court nominee. But the scene winds up being not about politics but about the elder patriarch’s sudden manifestation of Alzheimer’s.
The honest and liberal Joe Tynan, however, is not immune to ambition, and what such fulfillment ultimately requires. Many, especially liberal people today, don’t like the idea of mixing a politician’s personal life with his or her political performance. Too often, it smacks of fear mongering and tabloid expediency. But this film offers a fresh take on the question of whether, indeed, you can have political integrity without personal integrity. Can there be such a hybrid as a married politician?
To its very last telling scene, indeed shot, this movie tells a story that still deserves our attention.