Review: Champions

Score:  B

Director:  Boby Farrelly

Cast:  Woody Harrelson, Kaitlin Olson, Matt Cook, Kevin Iannucci, Joshua Felder

Running Time:  123 Minutes

Rated:  PG-13

"Might I suggest you call them by their names."

Fact or fiction, there is something special and heroic about a sports drama. The perceived underdog, David v. Goliath mountain, is universally relatable, as are the conflicts involving resources, accessibility, and self-doubt. No matter the sport or our own athletic abilities, we yearn to be in that moment, feeling the endorphins as we conquer our goal and extinguish our inner demons.

Bobby Farrelly's Champions carries that feeling with added heart, soul, and honest inner growth.

Set in Iowa, Champions centers on Marcus Marokovich (Woody Harrelson), a hot-tempered but extremely skilled assistant coach of a local minor league basketball team. After an on-court altercation gets Marcus ejected, he leaves the stadium and heads to a bar. Several drinks later, he finds himself staring at flashing red and blue lights, an incident that lands him in a courtroom vying for his freedom. His future looks murky, but he is ordered to manage a team of players with intellectual disabilities where he can work on his temper, patience, and hopefully better understand the meaning of a team.

Though a serious story, Farrelly beautifully balances the narrative with wit, satire, and humor. The characteristics merge to comprise an honest and authentic story propelled by an ensemble cast of talented persons. Outside of Harrelson, who is phenomenal, Kaitlin Olson stars as Alex, an unexpected love interest of Marcus' who, though abled, is dealing with issues surrounding family and commitment. Her brother, Kevin Iannucci's Johnny, is a member of the team, leading a group of unexpected scene-stealers who take full advantage of their platform, delivering funny, wholesome, and heartwarming performances that are both strong and inspiring.

While most of the team is glad to have a coach, Joshua Felder's Darius, the team's best player, refuses to participate. It is one of the many moments that Farrelly aborts the comedy in favor of a more serious, structured tone. The side story, interwoven into the larger account, gives the film its edge. Never shying away from uncomfortable conversations, Champions handles the tough subject matter with great care, forcing the story to take a strong beat and allowing the audience to understand the gravity of the situation.

As the film progresses and Marokovich evolves into a better human, he must face a series of difficult decisions that come with growth and change. These moments will have a lasting impact on both his personal and professional life, a reminder that even as things get better, we often find ourselves in a newly minted difficult position. Harrelson beautifully captures that emotion as Marokovich finds himself pulled between professional transition and personal maturity, with no clear-cut "right" answer to lean into.

It's a classic dilemma that, though unoriginal, adds to the film's ubiquitousness. And that is, in large part, why Champions works as well as it does. Though it offers little in the way of ingenuity, it does just enough to stir the right emotions, prompting a positive feeling as you hold your breath and watch intently as the ball slowly soars toward the basket, the buzzer blaring in the background. But, ultimately, win or lose, the audience has clearly benefited.


About Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis
I owe this hobby/career to the one and only Stephanie Peterman who, while interning at Fox, told me that I had too many opinions and irrelevant information to keep it all bottled up inside. I survived my first rated R film, Alive, at the ripe age of 8, it took me months to grasp the fact that Julia Roberts actually died at the end of Steel Magnolias, and I might be the only person alive who actually enjoyed Sorority Row…for its comedic value of course. While my friends can drink you under the table, I can outwatch you when it comes iconic, yet horrid 80s films like Adventures in Babysitting and Troop Beverly Hills. I have no shame when it comes to what I like, and if you have a problem with that, then we’ll settle it on the racquetball court. I see too many movies to actually win any film trivia contest, so don’t waste your first pick on me. My friends rent movies from my bookcase shelves, and one day I do plan to start charging. I long to live in LA, where my movie obsession will actually help me fit in, but for now I am content with my home in Austin. I prefer indies to blockbusters, Longhorns to Sooners and Halloween to Friday the 13th. I miss the classics, as well as John Ritter, and I hope to one day sit down and interview the amazing Kate Winslet.