In 2018, Champions, a Spanish film directed by Javier Fesser, was released and became the highest-grossing Spanish language film that year. Here we have the Hollywood remake, but was it worth the effort?
Woody Harrelson plays Marcus Marakovich, a hot-tempered, down on his luck coach who, due to an unfortunate run in with the law, ends up having to do community service coaching a basketball team for people who have intellectual disabilities. So far, so entirely expected. There are zero surprises as Harrelson learns to see past their disabilities and comes to respect not just the team, but also himself.
Seeing as there’s no need to worry about the plot, this is a great opportunity to mention some stand out moments. Early in the movie Julio (Cheech Marin), the manager of the rec centre where The Friends practice, talks Harrelson though the different members of the team, explaining how they have different levels of capabilities for different reasons. It’s a great introduction that is very much aimed at educating the audience as well as Harrelson.
In addition to Harrelson, the entire cast are surprisingly good. His love interest, Alex, feels well rounded, and this is almost entirely due to Kaitlin Olson, who gives her just the right amount of bite and vulnerability. It feels odd commenting on the fact that this movie has cast actors with disabilities in the roles of characters with disabilities. That feels like it should be the bare minimum. They’re also very well cast, and in all honesty they get the best and funniest moments in the film.
Kevin Iannucci as Johnny referencing his Down’s Syndrome by introducing himself as “your homie with an extra chromie” was surprisingly snort-worthy, as was Madison Tevlin’s Cosentino’s deadpan response to Harrelson asking her if he was really all that bad looking: “You’re no McConaughey” – a cute dig at Harrelson’s real life friendship. When Casey Metcalfe as Marlon deals with his ‘sprained’ finger in the big game, it’s brilliant. Most importantly, the humour never feels as though it’s at the expense of any of the characters or their disabilities.
The Blu-ray does have a few special features. Deleted scenes, three short documentary-style bits, and a commentary with the director Bobby Farrelly giving the usual insights. On the whole, all these do is give the impression that there was a lot more warmth and affection behind the cameras than was captured by the cameras.
Champions is a movie that ends up being that little bit less than the sum of its parts. It fails to make the most of a very strong cast, instead relying on a road so tried and tested it’s very much in need of some serious resurfacing. It can only be hoped that we’ll see many of these young actors in the future, because there’s a lot of talent on show.
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However, if you know what to expect, there’s still plenty to enjoy here. This is a film played with warmth and sincerity, and delivers just that. More importantly, representation matters. Seeing people with intellectual disabilities in a film matters. Which means that, despite its flaws, this film matters.