Crowd-pleasing sports biopic emphasizes faith, perseverance.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that American Underdog is an earnest biopic about NFL Hall of Famer Kurt Warner (Zachary Levi), who had an unlikely path to football stardom, and his relationship with his wife, Brenda (Anna Paquin). Content is mild overall. There's some drinking (all by characters of legal age) at bars, parties, and meals. Language includes a few jokes about Kurt's age, a couple of uses "dang," and an unfinished "son of a...!" While there's no off-field violence, the story of how a child became blind could be upsetting, as could a scene of mass destruction in the aftermath of a tornado that tragically killed many people, including two of the movie's characters. While there are no overt love scenes, Kurt and Brenda kiss, canoodle, and make out several times. Families who watch can discuss the movie's themes of gratitude, perseverance, and teamwork. The movie is directed by the Erwin Brothers, who are best known for their faith-based movies, including I Can Only Imagine and I Still Believe; this one is more "faith lite," but the main characters are committed Christians who believe in their faith's ability to guide their lives.
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American Underdog Is Awesome
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What's the Story?
AMERICAN UNDERDOG, directed by the Erwin Brothers, is a biographical drama about the unlikely career of football player Kurt Warner (Zachary Levi). As a fifth-year senior at a the University of Northern Iowa in the early '90s, Warner still sits the bench despite some success as a quarterback. While at a country-western bar with his teammate/best friend, Mike (Ser'Darius Blain), Kurt meets Brenda (Anna Paquin), a young single mother who's not really looking to date. Smitten, Kurt sweetly pursues Brenda and bonds with her young son, Zack (Hayden Zaller), who's blind, and daughter Jesse. Unfortunately, Kurt's name is never called during the 1994 Draft Day, and he ends up thinking he's done with football. But then he's offered a gig quarterbacking for Iowa's Arena Football League, where he gets noticed by coaches from the St. Louis Rams. At every step of his career, Kurt relies on Brenda and their shared faith in God for direction.
Is It Any Good?
The talented (if perhaps slightly too old) stars elevate this biopic from the story of a single player's almost unbelievable journey to a touching love story about overcoming unthinkable hardships. This sports drama celebrates the human interest in a true underdog -- a little-known Midwestern college player who defies the odds (age, collegiate pedigree, and personal tragedies) to become an NFL Hall of Famer. And as the movie tells it, there would be no Kurt Warner without Brenda's support. Their marriage is so integral to his story that it's reminiscent of the way Julia and Paul Child are depicted in Julie & Julia or how Abigail and John Adams are portrayed by historians. Despite no longer looking like they're in their early 20s, Levi and Paquin share an emotional and romantic chemistry that will make audiences feel invested in their relationship -- particularly because of how seamlessly Kurt starts to care for Zack (little sister Jesse doesn't get nearly as much screen time).
Various coaches and teammates have an impact on Kurt, but the ones who really stand out are Arena Football coach Jim Foster (Bruce McGill), who offers a touchdown bonus and encourages Kurt to make decisions and movements faster; gentle Rams head coach Dick Vermeil (Dennis Quaid), who gives generous pep talks; and offensive line head coach Mike Martz (Chance Kelly), whose critical approach is effective, if occasionally cruel. Although American Underdog isn't as obvious a contemporary Christian movie as the Erwin Brothers' previous films, the Warners' faith is fully on display, with various conversations and prayers asserting its importance in their lives. The filmmakers wisely focus on Warner's remarkable path from college to the his success as a pro without meandering into his entire professional (or even personal) life. For example, it's only explained in the end that the Warners went on to have five more children together. The Erwins are specifically taken with the early years of Kurt's instant family once he connects with Brenda and the kids, and, as a story of keeping the faith -- in each other, God, and the game -- it proves to be an inspiring and surprisingly unpredictable one.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about American Underdog's messages about faith, family, and football. Does the movie make you want to learn more about Kurt's career? What about his and Brenda's marriage?
The Erwin Brothers are known for being faith-based filmmakers, but this movie has been positioned as being more mainstream. How does this story incorporate the Warners' faith? Who do you think the target audience is?
How is Kurt a role model? In what ways does he exemplify gratitude, perseverance, and teamwork?
How does this movie compare with other "sports underdog" movies? What are some other examples of this genre?
- In theaters: December 17, 2021
- On DVD or streaming: February 22, 2022
- Cast: Zachary Levi, Anna Paquin, Dennis Quaid
- Directors: Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts
- Character Strengths: Gratitude, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 112 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some language and thematic elements
- Last updated: January 15, 2023
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