I have tried getting into the habit of only watching trailers for films when I absolutely have to in order to give myself the best possible experience of a film when I go to see it. In the case of Champions, I may have wanted to do so.
Marcus (Woody Harrelson) is a disgraced minor-league basketball coach in Des Moines that is trying to work his way back to the NBA. When his emotions get the better of him, he is fired and winds up drinking himself into a DUI. When presented to a judge for sentencing, she assigns him to ninety days of community service at a local rec center coaching the Friends, a group of intellectually challenged athletes as they embark on a quest to be more than just an extracurricular activity for each other.
Going into this screening, I was a little uneasy given the track record of director Bobby Farrelly. One half of the famous Farrelly brothers, their inclination for gross-out and shock humor made me think that this film was going to anger me more than anything. The only thing that kept me at bay was the excitement that Alex had for this film and knowing that we share the same feelings for things of this nature, I was able to go in fairly calm.
Since Champions is a remake of a Spanish film of the same name from five years ago, I knew that there would be a certain level of keeping Farrelly between the lines. Whether this was the reason or not is not really a concern for me because I truly enjoyed this film. Harrelson is great here and truly shows the emotional journey his character takes alongside other great actors like Kaitlin Olson as the romantic interest with a twist, Ernie Hudson as his former boss and de facto mentor, and Cheech Marin as the director of the rec center that is also the moral center of Marcus’ entire existence from the time they meet.
The make-or-break here is in the athletes themselves, and this group of young people are absolutely amazing. Each of them brings a performance that truly not only sells the story itself but shows how each of their characters are necessary to the larger picture. This is truly an ensemble film that has a level of heart that sets it apart from a lot of what is out there right now.
Seeing Harrelson talk about Champions and the joy he puts forth in his experience truly shows in a film that gave me a mix of all of the emotions it intends to bring to its audience. Some of the turns can be seen before they get there and there IS a level of formula to the story, but it is not the point of this film to try to shock or take the audience off guard. It is simply doing its best to bring some light and smiles to the world, and for that I give it all of its flowers.