Have you ever had something hyped up for you, then be disappointed when you finally experience it? Well that was “Friday Night Lights” for me. It was exactly like my experience seeing the stage production of “Wicked.” “Wicked” was so popular that they scheduled more performances for a year later and we bought tickets. Everyone said we HAD to see it; it was SO great. Well, it was pretty good, but nowhere near the GREAT that everyone said it was. I wish I could say that about “Friday Night Lights,” but it wasn’t even pretty good. It was adequate at best, but mostly just boring, coming off like a documentary. I understand that was somewhat intentional, as this movie was based on a book that was written by a man who followed the 1988 Permian Panthers for the season. However, they could have done a better job with the film.
The film starts off with a bunch of media coverage of the first practices of the team. We are introduced to the stars of the team, as well as the coach (Billy Bob Thornton), and get a feeling for their prospects of winning the state championship. Their star player, Booby Miles, is the center of their offense and is being recruited by every school in the nation. The best scene of the movie comes early on when the players on working out in the weight room. The quarterback is lifting weights while Booby is going through his various recruitment letters. Unfortunately, Booby has the reading skills of a four-year old so one of the other players is reading them to him. I have no doubt that this kind of thing is very prevalent in high school, and college for that matter, as we have all seen these athletes give interviews.
The first game of the season comes and the Panthers, and by that I mean Booby, destroy their first opponent. Near the end of the game, Coach Gaines decides to pull Booby to avoid him risking an injury, but has to keep him in since the backup can’t find his helmet (what did I tell you about football players?). On the next play, two players tackle him in an awkward position and injure his knee. In true Hollywood embellishment, they show two players on the opposing sideline low-fiving each other. I know that Booby deserved it after all of the trash-talking and showing off, but I just can’t see teenagers being proud of injuring someone like that. From then on, the movie deflates into a summarization of the rest of the season. For those of you who don’t know, they pull together as a team and make it to the state finals. I won’t spoil that game for you and don’t complain that I just ruined this movie by telling you as much as I did. They wouldn’t have made a movie about a team that stunk up the rest of the season, unless it ended with the brutal killing of the coach and the running back responsible for Booby’s injury by the crazed, small-town, football worshipping, Texas townsfolk. The closest we come to this is the town folk placing a for-sale sign in Thornton’s lawn.
The biggest problem with this movie is that they didn’t give us any reason to care about any of the players. We hate Booby because he is the epitome of what is wrong with American youth and the general attitude of today’s athletes. We don’t care about the coach because we never learn anything about him. Unless, of course, you count the dumbest offensive scheme ever. We’re not sure if the quarterback is gay or why his mom is crazy. We don’t even know why this particular team was chosen as the subject of a documentary. There is nothing about them that makes them stand out from any other Texas high school football team. The film glosses over most of the football, even though they hype up the Midland game, including the vast majority of the playoffs. That would be okay if this film was intended to focus more on the fans and the social treatment of the players, but we don’t even get that. We get a couple of angry fans and some “For Sale” signs in the coach’s yard after their first loss. We don’t even get the rabid following when they are winning.
The point of all of this is that this movie had all kinds of critical acclaim and rave reviews, but failed to live up to any of it. The best way look at this movie is to compare it with “Varsity Blues.” “Varsity Blues” has the exact same formula: star player gets hurt, back-up rises to the occasion and brings the team together for a great run. However, “Varsity Blues” also has a villain, a hero, a plot, and actually manages to give a good portrayal of a small-town Texas football atmosphere. For all the hype and “Top-Ten” lists that include “Friday Night Lights,” “Varsity Blues” is a far superior film and much more entertaining to the casual audience. Just don’t tell the people of Odessa (Permian’s home town). They might get really angry and try to sell your house for you.
Rating: If you were expecting entertainment, ask for nine dollars back. If you were expecting something else, well, you’re probably from Texas.