A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this indie sports dramedy stars former tween star Emma Roberts (Unfabulous, Hotel for Dogs), but it's more age-appropriate for teens. There's some mild violence (a courtside brawl, with a couple of punches and some pushing/shoving), more language than expected (including both swear words like "s--t" and "a--hole" and racial epithets like "wetback"), and the requisite adolescent sexuality -- which includes some kissing in a convertible and an inappropriate relationship between an older shoe salesman and one of the 17-year-old players. The coach -- who's frequently drunk -- has huge problems with his own daughter and a recurring fascination with the assistant coach's sexuality. The girls try to score a drink in one scene.
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What's the story?
Bill (Sam Rockwell) -- a divorced, alcoholic dishwasher who has a strained relationship with his daughter -- gets an unexpected call to coach the girls' basketball team at a local Indiana high school. The ragtag team of girls includes Tamra (Meaghan Witri), the daughter of the principal (Rob Corddry); Kathy (Emily Rios), a friendless Mexican-American student; Abby (Emma Roberts), the sweet, earnest team captain; Lisa (Shareeka Epps), a loud-mouthed occasional troublemaker; and Wendy (Rooney Mara), a beauty with a much older boyfriend. At first Bill is horrified by his team, but eventually, with the help of local morale booster Donna (Margo Martindale), he manages to spur the team onto unlikely glory ... until his past habits catch up with him.
Is it any good?
Ultimately, although there are many tender moments, THE WINNING SEASON is confusing, because Strouse is confused about whether he's making a genre film or an indie film. Down-and-out coach, small-town Indiana high school, basketball -- sounds like Hoosiers, doesn't it? Director James C. Strouse seems to be half paying tribute to and half subverting the very genre his movie falls into -- the uplifting sports drama. The best parts are when the girls show Bill that he's sorely lacking when it comes to communicating with young women. When he casually calls an opposing player "the big girl," the team calls him out for reinforcing negative stereotypes ("You're the reason girls get eating disorders," one of his team deadpans). By taking Bill to task, the girls actually prepare him to face his sullen daughter, herself a basketball player at a rival school.
Martindale, a gifted character actress, impresses with her low-key portrayal. Donna is the most genuine character in the movie, with her quiet belief in the team and her witty banter with Bill. Rockwell, one of Hollywood's most underrated actors, never gives a dull performance. He plays Bill as a cocky curmudgeon who never coddles the girls or tries to be their best friend; he's coarse when necessary -- like when he tells Wendy not to flatter herself because she's not his type. His no-nonsense -- sometimes a tad harsh -- approach to coaching, in turn, teaches the girls to stand up for themselves, to believe in what they can accomplish together, despite their differences. Those differences, the girls realize, are insignificant, because when they get on the court, it's the teamwork that matters.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's messages about what it means to be part of a team. How do the girls have to put their individual differences aside to be a successful team? How do they improve as the season progresses?
The movie has persistent discussions of sexuality and ethnicity. How are they handled? What lessons are learned about making assumptions based on stereotypes?
What are the consequences of drinking in the movie? Do you think they're realistic?
- In theaters: September 3, 2010
- On DVD or streaming: November 23, 2010
- Cast: Emma Roberts, Rob Corddry, Sam Rockwell
- Director: James C. Strouse
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts
- Run time: 119 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some thematic elements, language including some sexual references, alcohol abuse and smoking
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