The Winning Season

Quirky indie sports flick is surprisingly serious, moving.
  • Review Date: September 1, 2010
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release Year: 2010
  • Running Time: 119 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Toward the very end of the movie, there are positive messages about teamwork, cooperation, and rising above differences to achieve a common goal. A girl who once made jokes about Mexicans ends up defending her Mexican teammate. Another girl who always attends her boyfriend's games stands up for herself and asserts that relationships require reciprocated support.

Positive role models

Although the coach is a negative role model at first, he's also a positive influence in the girls' lives. The girls all learn not only to play better but to be more comfortable with themselves. The girls also teach the coach not to be so sexist or to make throwaway comments or assumptions about girls. The assistant coach is a great role model for showing the girls that being part of a team is significant and will, win or lose, mean a great deal to all of them for the rest of their lives.


Trash-talking at a game leads to a brawl (one punch, plus pushing and shoving) on the basketball court. The coach punches and pushes a much older guy who's dating one of his players.


One of the players is involved with a much older guy and is shown holding hands and making out with him. Another player has a boyfriend; they kiss in his car. The coach tells a player she's not his type because he likes "big t-ts" and an "onion ass" (which he describes as "an ass that makes you want to cry"). There's consistent speculation about the assistant coach's sexuality, and one of the players questions her own sexuality because of how she feels toward an opposing player.


Fairly frequent use of words like "bitch," "a--hole," "p---y," and "s--t" by high-school students and adults. In a couple of scenes, racial slurs are said to a Mexican-American student. Other words include "t-ts," "ass," and more.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

The coach is a huge drinker. At one point, he's so drunk that he gets pulled over for driving under the influence. The girls try to score a drink in one scene.

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.

Parents say

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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?


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. 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. 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.

Families can talk 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?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:September 3, 2010
DVD release date:November 23, 2010
Cast:Emma Roberts, Rob Corddry, Sam Rockwell
Director:James C. Strouse
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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  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
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  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 14 years old Written byConwolf October 11, 2011
age 13+

Some swearing and Alcohol do not take away from movie.

I found that the movie focused on teamwork and acceptance for your teammates. I personally really liked the story. Yes, the coach drinks way to much and sh*t and a**hole comes up a lot, but it doesn't take away from the story.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


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