MY ALL AMERICAN
Director: Angelo Pizzo
Cast: Finn Wittrock, Sarah Bolger, Aaron Eckhart, Rett Terrell, Juston Street, Michael Reilly Burke, Robin Tunney
MPAA Rating: (for thematic elements, language and brief partial nudity)
Running Time: 1:58
Release Date: 11/13/15
Review by Mark Dujsik | November 12, 2015
The opening scene of My All American just might be an impressive act of subverting the audience's expectations. In it, an aged college football coach is being interviewed by a reporter from the college newspaper. She wants to know how he feels about his professional successes, namely that dozens of players under his watch were named All-American athletes. The coach, played by Aaron Eckhart under a lot of makeup that makes one wonder if the Uncanny Valley is a thing when it comes to latex, says that one player in particular stood out to him over the course of his career. That player, the reporter says, was not an All-American. "No," the coach responds, "but he was my All-American."
Everything about this scene—from the contrived setup to the makeup to the ham-fisted line that closes it—sets us up for something cheesy, cornball, and any other adjective involving food that suggests material played with sickening-sweet sincerity. The opening scene is so over-the-top in this regard, though, that nothing that follows it even approaches its levels of saccharine. Mind you, there's a lot here that could, which makes one wonder if that's why writer/director Angelo Pizzo starts with this particular approach. Everything else seems downright sincere instead of sickeningly so. It's an example of lowered expectations working in a movie's favor.
The player in question is Freddie Steinmark (Finn Wittrock), an all-American kid from Colorado who has been playing football as long as there has been a team in his age-range. He plays in a pee-wee league and becomes a star in high school, all under the watchful eyes of his father (Michael Reilly Burke) and with the encouragement of his mother (Robin Tunney). He's smaller in stature than the rest of the players on every team on which he plays, but he is fast, nimble, and has a way of rallying his teammates around him.
The movie is based on a true story, of course, although it's not much of one until the third act. Freddie has his life carefully planned. He sits on a hill with his high-school and college sweetheart Linda (Sarah Bolger), mapping it out for her: There's his high school, the university where he's going to play, and the city of Denver, where he's going to be a professional football player.
Everything here is about football. This isn't so much a biography as it is a re-creation of a highlight reel. Freddie excels in the pee-wee league, shows off his running and catching skills in high school, and eventually is accepted to the University of Texas, where he plays defense. At this point, the movie can't quite figure out how to portray Freddie's story, because that story is all about football and playing safety isn't exactly as thrilling for a highlight reel as, say, playing quarterback. Pizzo decides to nix Freddie in favor of James Street (Juston Street, playing his father), the team's quarterback, on the field.
The football sequences are as routine as one might expect in terms of form and involvement. We don't care enough about the team or the players to really care about Coach Darrell Royal's (Eckhart) new offense, and Pizzo doesn't offer any sense of how that play strategy works to make us care about the football scenes as football. There are so many scenes of the sport that a large portion of this story feels like it's simply filling time.
We lose Freddie, but then again, we never really have a solid gauge on him beyond a few details. First and foremost, he plays football really well. Next, he loves Linda and eventually wants to start a family with her. Finally, he's just an all-around good and decent guy. There are no obstacles or conflicts for him for a long time. The screenplay's structure is just a repetition of the same ideas over and over again: football, some pleasant scenes with Linda, some movement up the ranks of the team, more football, some inspiring speech from the coach, football, Freddie encouraging his teammate, and even more football.
It's difficult to tell what makes this young man worthy of a story, although that changes very late in the movie when he starts to feel some pain in his leg (The scene that reveals the cause of this pain is awkward in the way it says precisely what the problem is but then has to flat-out say a certain word, as if the audience somehow would miss it the four or five other times it's explained). We're supposed to feel uplifted because Freddie is able to overcome his debilitating physical condition for an entire season of football. Instead, we're left wondering about the irresponsibility of the sort of mentality fostered by sports that would push someone to ignore obvious warning signs.
Yes, it's impressive that Freddie is able to persevere despite his limitations, but maybe that's the wrong angle for this story. Then again, maybe we should just be glad that My All American finds a story here and that the routine that precedes it isn't as hokey as that opening scene.
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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