Review: My All-American Has Its Problems But Also Has Heart
I have to admit, I hadn’t heard anything about this movie. I seemed to have missed all the ads and press for this. Never heard of this story before, although that part didn’t surprise me as I’m more of a casual fan of football. “My All-American” is the true story based on Freddie Steinmark, a very small but very determined football player chasing his dreams until tragedy strikes, but Steinmark shows that hope and inspiration are harder to keep down. You can probably tell right from that synopsis if this is the movie for you or not, but if you’d like to go deeper…
Cinematics (Plot, Acting, Cinematography, etc.) – 2.5
While googling the logline for the film to get a basic idea of what I was in for, I found out it was directed by Angelo Pizzo and got excited. Angelo Pizzo was the writer of “Hoosiers” and “Rudy” my two favorite sports films ever. However this time he’s not only the writer but gets a chance to direct… and it’s here where I assume the director of “Hoosiers” and “Rudy,” David Anspaugh, may have been more instrumental to their success than I originally thought. How exactly? Well let me just say what my biggest complaint was. The film was overly sentimental and while some have argued that “Rudy” and “Hoosiers” fall under this category I personally thought they struck the right balance of real world grit and darkness so that when there were sentimental moments they were earned and you bought them. I can’t say that happened with “My All-American.” Also with a first time director directing it looks very flat and TV like although I did like that I was seeing a modern film that wasn’t desaturated to crap. I also appreciated that he tried to do some interesting camera pans but they never quite looked right. It’s like they were almost too grand for the scenes they were used in.
The second biggest issue with the film is the main character, Freddie Steinmark (played by Finn Wittrock) but not the actor himself. Most of the acting in general is decent, nothing amazing but decent for what is asked by them with the exception of the few actors mostly at the beginning. No the big issue with Freddie is how he is written which is that he’s too perfect. Now I get it’s based on a true story (no idea how faithful it is) and for all I know maybe he really was this much of a stand up kind of guy in real life, those kind of people do exist. However for a film you still have to find a way to make that sort of a personality compelling. At least do it so that we still feel the drama of some of the dark moments of his life. But because he’s so good and always responds the best possible way to a situation it takes away from the drama. The dark moments don’t feel so dark.
Spoiler Alert (Click to See)
I realize some may be drawn into that kind of person and I don’t want to come off as a curmudgeon as many critics seem that way to regular film-goers. Inspirational films are challenging to do. I love a film that can deliver its message so well it can have an effect of changing me. Making me want to push on like the character but like I said it’s hard to do, not everyone can pull it off. Something like “Rudy” was able to but this wasn’t. I realize that I’ve compared this to “Rudy” a few times and that may seem unfair. I’d say judge the film on its own merits but here the film drew those comparisons itself. The training scenes are practically a copy of the tryout scenes in “Rudy” to the point I almost swear some of the shots are exactly the same. Even the score by John Paesano (a fine young composer) sounds very much like they said “give us something like Jerry Goldsmith’s score to Rudy.” I sort of understand, the “Rudy” score is amazing, but still.
Entertainment Value – 3
I can remember very early in the film I got worried. We have Aaron Eckhart (as Coach Darrell Royal) in old age make-up being interviewed, talking about the best all-american players he ever coached. He mentions Freddie Steinmark and the interviewers correct him saying, “Freddie Steinmark wasn’t an all-american.” Now I didn’t do this intentionally or anything, I was trying to enjoy the film, but the first thing that came to mind after hearing that was “He was MY all-american.” and wouldn’t you know it, that’s EXACTLY what Aaron Eckhart said in response. As I said I was very worried at this point and couldn’t believe this was written by the same guy who wrote “Hoosiers.” That feeling pervaded the first 3rd of the film. It almost felt like a film from the 50s and not in a good way like that was what they were going for. I don’t know, perhaps that’s what they were going for but it felt more like overly cheesy. If you were to see this film on TV and decide to flip the channel, I could understand. Although I will say it does get better as it goes along. Although the problems I mentioned before were still bothering me with this impossibly good hero succeeding over and over.
Spoiler Alert (Click to See)
The best part of the film is the final game between Texas (Freddie’s team) and Arkansas. I was amazed at how much I got into that game. It even had some good tension about if Freddie’s leg was going to give out and who would win. The editing and pacing of that sequence really worked and it’s impressive that the film was able to do that even though as I said with the main character being so perfect it diluted some of the tension because it felt like nothing would stop him. And yet I did find myself watching that scene like it was a real exciting game of Football. The last third was also good and made me think maybe this could have worked. Even though it’s probably more similar to “Brian’s Song” I still was thinking about “Rudy” since the final game Texas plays for Freddie is against Notre Dame and the idea of the two teams trying to win it for the little guy with heart. Both teams thinking they have the more noble reason for winning just tickled me. In fact it was interesting to think of how in “Rudy” Notre Dame is so praised yet in here they’re sort of the “bad-guys.” One man’s inspiration is another man’s dashed dreams in sports. Although I did like how the two opposing coaches weren’t treated like mortal enemies but were friends and at the end of the Arkansas game they shake hands and congratulate each other on a great game. It’s weird to think this is something to praise but you don’t normally see something like that in movies. It was kinda refreshing honestly.
So it’s clear the film wasn’t for me. However I could tell the audience in my screening really loved it and that’s totally fine. You may read this and think that the things I mentioned as bothering me won’t bother you. We all have movies that we know may not be the best or are flat out manipulating you but you still buy into it. For me that would be “The Bucket List,” I know it’s overly syrupy but I still like it and I suspect there will be a sizable amount of people who will like this film more than I did.
Rewatchability – 2
I’ve seen it once and don’t ever plan on watching it again. However IF I was somehow forced to watch it again, I could but I have the feeling I may pick up on more things I didn’t like.
I can see this film becoming one of those hits with audiences but panned by critics kind of movies. While there is “heart” to the film that makes me not want to hate it, its problems hold the film back. However I'm certain there will be people who will really connect with this film and hopefully you can tell from this whether or not you'll likely be one of those after reading. I give it 2 ½ stars out of 5.