A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that When the Game Stands Tall is based on the true story of Coach Bob Ladouceur, who has the distinction of coaching the high school football team with the longest winning streak in sports history. This sports biopic -- which is packed with positive messages about teamwork, hard work, and learning from adversity -- is fine for older tweens and teens, though those who know and enjoy the game are most likely to fully appreciate the movie. There's virtually no language or sex (aside from some kissing and references to "getting it on"), but there is some startling violence, including the senseless, execution-style death of a beloved character. Teens drink at a party, and the coach smokes cigarettes. Watch through the credits to see footage of the real Coach Lad (who has a couple of cameos as another coach) saying some of the same lines depicted in the movie.
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What's the story?
WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL is based on the true story of Coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel), the head coach of the De La Salle Spartans, the high school football team with the longest-running winning streak (151 games) in the history of the sport. Instead of following the team's winning years, the movie chronicles Coach Lad's tumultuous season guiding the troubled team that ultimately broke the streak. Once the team loses, they also lose their way, while at the same time dealing with a tragedy that strikes one of their most promising recent alums. And at home, Coach Lad must consider the personal cost of committing so much to a team, possibly at the expense of his wife (Laura Dern) and growing kids.
Is it any good?
There are occasional touching or powerful moments, like when Coach Lad has a serious stroke or when the most charming player on the team is brutally shot. The acting is fine, too. So then why is this such a boring and predictable movie? Attempts to elevate ideas about faith and adversity are stymied by the weak plot, which -- with the exception of the side story about two former star players -- is really formulaic. The actual football scenes are engaging enough, but the off-the-field drama veers into maudlin territory and has very little humor. If you've exhausted better football flicks, this one will do, but unlike its subjects, this isn't the winningest sports tale.
Even people who don't care about sports usually love sports movies, because there's something viscerally appealing about rooting for an underdog or celebrating the first integrated team or just watching an exceptional athlete beat exceptional odds. But When the Game Stands Tall is a movie about a team that finally loses two games in a row after a 151-game winning streak, which doesn't exactly inspire much investment. There isn't a sports-movie cliche the filmmakers leave unexplored. Soft-spoken but intense coach? Check. Diverse team that includes down-and-out kids hoping for a better life? Check. Long-suffering coach's wife who would love to see more of her husband? Check. Emotionally abusive father who cares about his son's records more than the team? Check? And so on. Of course, without having read the book on which the movie was based, it's not possible to know whether these predictable elements are true to life.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why so many sports movies are inspiring. Why do you think there are so many football movies? What are some of your other favorites in the genre?
What do you think about Coach Lad's lessons about learning from adversity, putting the team above yourself, and learning to become men, not players?
Do you agree that the team made the right call at the end of the movie? Why was what they did a tribute to their coach?
- In theaters: August 22, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: December 9, 2014
- Cast: Jim Caviezel, Alexander Ludwig, Michael Chiklis
- Director: Thomas Carter
- Studio: TriStar Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts
- Run time: 115 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic material, a scene of violence, and brief smoking
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