Making the Grades
There's a sign in the gym of our local school that reads, "Be a Fan, Not a Fanatic". It's a little bit of wisdom the football enthusiasts from Odessa, Texas could take to heart.
While this kind of fervor can be just as easily found at the hockey rink, tennis court or soccer field, the fans portrayed in this film push the extreme of fanaticism. (Having never been to Odessa, I have no idea what the school's "real" boosters are like.)
In Friday Night Lights, however, they feel perfectly entitled to invite themselves into Coach Gaines' (Billy Bob Thornton) office with some friendly advice on how to run the defense. And if the Permian Panthers don't win, they warmly welcome the coach home with For Sale signs all over his lawn. Watching anxiously from the sidelines, Sharon Gaines (Connie Britton) is never sure if her husband will be lauded or lynched for the night's performance.
The citizens also are willing to turn a blind eye to the players' rampant promiscuity and teenage drinking. But they're leniency doesn't extend to any messing around on the football field.
It's no wonder then that Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) has a permanent scowl on his face. Along with caring for his sick mother, this quarterback for the 1988 team carries a huge weight on his shoulder pads. The well being of the whole town seems contingent upon winning a state championship. (We're given no explanation how community survived since the team's last championship success in 1984.)
But Mike's not the only one with problems.
When Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) misses a pass during practice or a game, he can be sure he'll catch it at home. His father (Tim McGraw) was once a big football hero, but now he's an abusive drunk who viciously beats and verbally berates his son when the boy doesn't live up to his expectations. And you can bet this dad isn't man enough to apologize when he's sober.
Although the film offers some thoughtful looks at the definition of success, it gets a huge penalty for family viewing. The script includes numerous profanities, depictions of drinking and two teen sexual scenes--one in which a boy gives up his virginity only to prove to a girl he isn't homosexual and another impulsive moment when we see a young couple without their shirts from the back.
For anyone over 20, this story based on a real football season is also a sad reminder of how insular high school can be. These senior players are led to believe this is their last chance for victory, their last chance to make history, their last chance to find success in life before they turn into frumpy, grumpy old adults who have to live vicariously through the younger generation.
Unfortunately, the grown-ups in this movie don't do much to dispel that belief. Rather than guide these young men through challenging times and prepare them for future achievements, most of the townsfolk leave the kids to deal with mature issues while they quibble over football.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Friday Night Lights.
What is the responsibility of the referees to maintain a safe playing environment? Would the excessively rough hits portrayed in this movie be allowed on a real high school football field?
What did the team learn about winning? What did Coach Gaines say was the difference between winning and losing? Do you agree with his analysis?
What are other examples of fanatical fans? Is their presence an attraction or distraction? Is this a just portrayal of all sports enthusiasts?