Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch:
‘Friday Night Lights’ rises above sports movie clichés

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Oct. 21, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

A terrific new high school football movie, based on a true story and titled Friday Night Lights, opened recently.

Peter Berg directs a poignant story of the obsession that is high school football in Odessa, Texas. Friday Night Lights is based on H.G. Bissinger’s 1990 bestseller.

In a washed-out color that almost has a documentary look to it we follow the fall season of 1988 of the football team of Odessa-Permian High School. From the beginning, director Berg gives us the vastness and isolation of the Texas plains as we soon learn that high school football is the local all-consuming “religion” of choice.

Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) is a second-year coach who is expected to lead his team to a state championship. His team is fairly small in stature but he has a good cocky running back named Boobie Miles (Derek Luke). His quiet quarterback is Mike Winchell (Lucas Black), who lives with his handicapped mother.

We begin with August practice and go through the season of games. The physical action of this film is extraordinary. The sound of player tackling player is intense.

The main line of the plot is centered on the team’s ups and downs on their way to a showdown with massive players from Dallas Carter High School in the Astrodome for the state championship. Friday Night Lights has lots of twists and turns and doesn’t fall into the clichés of the usual “Rocky”-style sports film.

Derek Luke, who we remember from Antone Fisher, is absolutely extraordinary in a powerful scene when the bone specialist in Midland tells him he will never play football. As Boobie, the actor refuses to face reality until after he lies to his coach and plays at a key moment in a crucial game.

Billy Bob Thornton again knocks his part out of the ball field. The scene in which he comes home to his wife (Connie Britton) after he has lost a game and stares, with her held in his arms, at the “For Sale” signs all over their front yard, is haunting.

The subplot between a Dad (Country-Western star Tim McGraw) and his son (Garrett Hedlund) is overwrought but meaningfully intense. The father has won his gold state championship ring years before. He verbally and physically abuses his son, whom he wants to be state champion also. Throughout the film the dark side of sports continually rears its head. There is something sad as a father says to his son that because of football, age 17 will be the pinnacle of life.

The ending of Friday Night Lights tells us what happened to the players and coach in subsequent years. These soldiers of sport for adoring or hating crowds become ordinary people like the rest of us.

There are moments of the heroic in the film, which also shows actions of goodness in sport.

If you like football you will love Friday Night Lights. If you don’t, and can get by the intense football violence, you may find yourself liking Friday Night Lights very much anyway.

It is a film about the human condition. And Coach Grimes’s explanation of what perfection is all about may well explain the Biblical quotation, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father.”

Friday Night Lights is rated PG-13, for mild sexual content, underage drinking, and rough football action, by the Motion Picture Association of America. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates Friday Night Lights A-III – adults.


The new film Shall We Dance? appeared in several sneak previews before opening nationally on Oct. 15.

I saw the original 1997 Japanese version of the film. It included cultural issues involving a husband taking a risk in learning how to do ballroom dancing. My memory places it more on the serious side, with gentle humor. The new Peter Chelsom version of the film emphasizes the humor and ties up all loose ends.

I enjoyed the film very much. I laughed out loud numerous times.

But there are some problems, including Jennifer Lopez’s acting at the beginning. A subplot involving detectives is carried on too long. The Americanization of the story weakens the nuances of the original. The pacing in the last third of the film seems to drag. The humor is pushed over the top time and time again. Nothing about this film is subtle.

John Clark (Richard Gere) is a Chicago lawyer who deals with wills and settlements. Going home on the El one evening, similar to trips over the last 20 years, he looks up and sees a lonely woman standing in a window at Miss Mitzi’s School of Dance. Days later he gets off the train and slowly walks up the stairs to the dance school. He is about to go back down when a dancer asks him to help carry her dance costume up the stairs to the school. Thus begins his eight-week course every Wednesday, initially with Miss Mitzi (Anita Gillette). Mr. Clark had hoped to be taught by the woman in the window, whose name is Paulina (Jennifer Lopez).

There is lots of humor as John begins to learn the basics with two new recruits. In the process of fits and starts Mr. Clark begins to really enjoy his new avocation. He becomes passionate about his new skill. As a dancer he finds a renewed life in the community of dancers. He is afraid to tell his wife and family because he believes they won’t understand and think he is going crazy.

Mr. Clark’s wife, Beverly (Susan Sarandon), begins to be suspicious about her husband’s absences from home and hires a detective.

The plot has lots of twists and turns as Mr. Clark moves toward becoming a very good dancer whom Miss Mitzi enters in a Chicago Ballroom Dance competition.

Toward the end of the film there is a scene that reminds one of the younger Mr. Gere sweeping Debra Winger off her feet in 1982’s An Officer and a Gentleman.

Jennifer Lopez is beautiful as the young dancer. Richard Gere is very convincing as the lawyer who finds new excitement in his life as a ballroom dancer. He is very good as a dancer and seems to be having a good time.

Susan Sarandon is excellent as the wife who has an important career at Sax Fifth Avenue. She has a luminous beauty.

Stanley Tucci is wonderful as the extravagant dancer who at his day job works very staidly in John Clark’s law office.

The small character roles are well done.

Shall We Dance? is a crowd-pleasing entertaining movie. Even if it is flawed it is the date film of the fall season. Older couples who have been married a while will particularly find it enjoyable and thought-provoking.

Shall We Dance? is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned) by the Motion Picture Association of America. There are themes of sexuality and mild language. The U.S. Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates Shall We Dance? (Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer of the Diocese of Spokane. His reviews frequently appear in the Cheney Free Press.)

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