Monday, November 21, 2016

The Winning Season (2009 film)

Written and directed by James C. Strouse, The Winning Season is the story of a down-on-his-luck ex-high school basketball star who is asked by an old friend to coach a girl’s basketball team as he help them in and out of the court. It’s a film that follows a man who is in need to redeem himself as well as help some girls going through growing pains. Starring Sam Rockwell, Emma Roberts, Rooney Mara, Shareeka Epps, Emily Rios, Meaghan Witri, Melanie Hinkle, Margo Martindale, and Rob Corddry. The Winning Season is a delightful and charming film from James C. Strouse.

Set in a small town in Indiana, the film is a simple story of an alcoholic busboy who is asked by an old high school friend who is now principal in coaching the girl’s varsity basketball team. For Bill (Sam Rockwell), the chance to do something other than drown in sorrows in alcohol as well as cope with being estranged from his own daughter is something he needs. Yet, James C. Strouse’s script doesn’t exactly play by convention as Bill is someone that is reluctant to do the job as the team of girls he has aren’t that good with one of them sporting an injured foot. Still, they want to play as Bill is aware that they have the heart but need a lot of work as it gives him the chance to do something good. Even as he’s become estranged from his own daughter who wants nothing to do with him as she also plays basketball for another school. While Strouse does play into a formula of sorts of turning a team of misfits into a winning team. He plays with it a bit as he focus on the girls themselves as they go through growing pains that is expected as a teenager as Bill helps them out with additional help from his new assistant coach in Donna (Margo Martindale).

Strouse’s direction is quite simple as it play into this life of a deadbeat loser who is given a chance to make something of himself again. Though it’s largely shot in upstate New York during the winter, the film does play into a look that is quite drab and low-key as it relates to the world that Bill is in as someone who feels sorry for himself constantly and is unable to do things right for his daughter. While Strouse uses some wide shots to establish some of the locations as well as in some of the basketball game scenes. Strouse’s usage of the medium shots and close-up would give the film an intimacy as it relates to the characters and their own situations. Especially as there is an equal amount of tension to the girls as they are enduring some of the awkwardness of being a teenager as well as other personal things. Yet, Strouse does keep things light so that the drama doesn’t overwhelm things as much of the humor feels natural as it would play in the third act where Bill does whatever he can to help his team from afar as it would also be a major moment in his journey for redemption. Overall, Strouse creates an engaging and heartfelt film about a former high school basketball star coaching a girl’s varsity team and make them be winners.

Cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco does excellent work with the film‘s low-key cinematography as it emphasizes more on a drab look with low-key lighting to play into Bill‘s state of mind only to become more colorful later on once he starts to care about what he does and do right for himself. Editor Joe Klotz does nice work with the editing as it is mostly straightforward to play into the humor and some of the drama. Production designer Stephen Beatrice, with set decorator Cristina Casanas and art director Matthew Munn, does fantastic work with the look of Bill‘s apartment home as well as the high school gym where he and the girls do practices.

Costume designer Victoria Farrell does terrific work with the costumes from the design of the school uniforms as well as the design of the school mascots. Sound designers Rusty Dunn and Lewis Goldstein do superb work with the sound as it play into the way music is presented in some scenes as well as the raucous atmosphere of the basketball games. The film’s music by Edward Shearmur does wonderful work with the music as its mixture of jazz and rock help play into some of the film‘s humor and melancholia while music supervisor Tracy McKnight creates a fun soundtrack that is a mix of music from acts like Ben Lee, Patti LaBelle, Hamilton, Joe Frank, & Reynolds, and other acts in the world of hip-hop and pop.

The casting by Kerry Barden and Paul Schnee is brilliant as it feature some notable small roles from Kevin Breznahan as an adult boyfriend of Wendy, Jessica Hecht as Bill’s ex-wife Stacey, Connor Paolo as a varsity basketball player named Damon whom Abbie is fond of, Vanessa Gordillo as a new member of the basketball team in Flor, and Shana Dowdeswell as Bill’s daughter Molly whom he’s been estranged by as she despises him for being a loser. Rob Corddry is terrific as the school principal Terry who is an old friend of Bill that offers him the job as he has a daughter in the team. Margo Martindale is fantastic as Donna as a team bus driver who reluctantly helps Bill as an assistant coach despite her lack of knowledge in basketball as she would prove to be an asset in helping the girls with their growing pains. Melanie Hinkle is superb as Mindy as the team’s injured player who helps film many of the games as well as provide some ideas of what the team could do. Meaghan Witri is wonderful as Tamra as Terry’s daughter who is coping with her own sexual identity as she turns to Donna for advice.

Emily Rios is excellent as Kathy as a new student who is a good shooter but faces some prejudice as some opposing players would call her some racial slurs. Shareeka Epps is amazing as Lisa as a player who isn’t fond of Kathy at first until she stands up for her as well as become a less selfish player. Rooney Mara is remarkable as Wendy as Mindy’s sister who has an affair with an older man despite the fact that she’s underage as she copes with wanting to be more grown up as she is still young. Emma Roberts is marvelous as Abbie as the teenage girl who would coax Bill to do something as she also deals with first love where it’s a very realistic and charming performance from Roberts. Finally, there’s Sam Rockwell in an incredible performance as Bill as once-great high school basketball star who has become a deadbeat alcoholic as he copes with his failures until he is given the chance to coach a girl’s team as he finally finds meaning in his life again.

The Winning Season is an excellent film from James C. Strouse. Featuring a great cast led by Sam Rockwell as well as a witty yet heartfelt script and playing with the conventions of sports films. It’s a film that offers something with some substance while not being afraid to follow the formula as well as present characters that are quite real. In the end, The Winning Season is an amazing film from James C. Strouse.

© thevoid99 2016


Dell said...

Somehow, I hadn't heard of this one. Sounds like it's worth checking out.

thevoid99 said...

I just found out about this film a month ago as it seemed to have been lost in the shuffle which is a shame considering that it's got a damn good cast and manages to have something to offer.

Big Screen Small Words said...

I liked this movie; Sam Rockwell was good in this.

thevoid99 said...

@Big Screen Small Words-Agreed, Rockwell is one of those actors is where if he's given good material. He can make it mean something and this is one of his finest performances.