For the past three weeks, I’ve been looking at some of the best, worst, most memorable, and most forgettable high school and teen films ever made. I’ve been posting the reviews in chronological order and, as I look back over the previous 63 Back to School reviews, one thing that I can’t escape is football.
It’s funny. Despite being a Texas girl, I know very little about football and, whenever I have found myself watching a game, I’ve usually end up getting bored out of my mind. I’m not a huge fan of sports films, either. It’s just not my thing. And yet, as a result of doing this series of reviews, I’ve watched more football films over the past month than I had probably seen in my entire life previously. Some of the films that I’ve reviewed specifically were football films — The Pom Pom Girls, All The Right Moves, and Varsity Blues, for example. However, even the film that weren’t specifically about the sport often featured scenes set on the football field. Just think of Forest Whitaker in Fast Times At Ridgemont High or the socially conflicted jocks from Dazed and Confused.
For a lot of films, football and high school seem to go together. And one of the most acclaimed high school football films is 2004’s Friday Night Lights. Now, I have to admit that Friday Night Lights is not one of my favorite films. It’s a football film, I’m not into football, and therefore, Friday Night Lights is a film that I respect more as a well-made film than like as a source of entertainment. Perhaps the best thing that I can say about Friday Night Lights is that I understand why so many people who do love football also happen to love this film.
And I do have to say that I appreciate that Friday Night Lights is also a film about Texas that actually manages to realistically portray my home state without resorting to the predictable clichés that dominated Varsity Blues.
Taking place in Odessa, Texas, Friday Night Lights follows the 1988 season of the Permian Panthers. As opposed to most sports films, Friday Night Lights does not focus on a team of lovable underdogs. Instead, the Panthers are already known for being a championship team. As the season begins, Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) is under tremendous pressure to continue that winning tradition. However, when the team’s star player is injured during the first game of the season, the Panthers suddenly find their pre-ordained winning season in doubt. Gaines finds himself being alternatively celebrated and demonized depending on how the previous night’s game has gone and his players find themselves under tremendous pressure from everyone in town. The film features a great performance from Billy Bob Thornton and a really good one from Derek Luke, playing a player who abruptly goes from being a future superstar to a present could-have-been. In fact, the entire film is well-acted with even country singer Tim McGraw giving a surprisingly multi-faceted performance as a former player-turned-drunk.
In short, Friday Night Lights is a lot like Varsity Blues, except that it doesn’t suck.
(Incidentally, Friday Night Lights did inspire a TV series. I never watched it.)