Directed by: Angelo Pizzo
Premise: The true story of Freddie Steinmark who played football for the University of Texas at Austin in 1969.
What Works: The best aspect of My All American is the relationship between Freddie Steinmark and his girlfriend Linda Wheeler, played by Finn Wittrock and Sarah Bolger. The pair are high school sweethearts and they go to college together with plans to live out their lives on Steinmark’s anticipated football career. The couple ought to be insufferable but Wittrock and Bolger are likable and their relationship feels genuine. Late in the movie, the story takes a dramatic turn and its Wittrock and Bolger’s scenes that stand out. These are the only moments that make the dramatic impact that the filmmakers intend.
What Doesn’t: My All American was written and directed by Angelo Pizzo who also wrote Hoosiers and Rudy, which are among the best sports films ever made. My All American is nowhere near the quality of those films. In fact, it is really terrible. My All American is mostly a watered down retread of Rudy; it imports most of the story structure and the major emotional beats of the 1993 movie but it has none of the drama, the character, or the substance. My All American is a string of clichés with Pizzo cannibalizing his own work. Yet again, an underdog dreams of playing football but is passed over because of his stature. But his guts and gumption put him on the radar of the coaching staff and he eventually earns a spot on the team. Once the football season is underway the movie might as well be made of stock footage; all the football montages are generic gameplay imagery and the movie has none of the grit or intelligence of Fright Night Lights or the elegance of Invincible. Quite a lot of My All American looks cheap and artificial. The low budget of the film is evident in the costumes and sets and especially in the football stadiums which look like something out of a video game. Aaron Eckhart is cast as head football coach Darrell Royal. Eckhart does what he can with the part but he’s trapped in the cliché role of the tough coach and all the script gives him to do is recite the most generic motivational speeches ever seen in a football movie. That’s indicative of one of the major flaws of this picture; My All American seems like it was made by people whose only knowledge of football comes from watching other football movies. My All American has no insight into the game or the struggles of student athletes. It is incumbent on sports movies to be about more than the game. In this case, football has to embody something larger and the character’s struggles have to take on a deeper meaning. That never happens in My All American. It is football for football’s sake and in that respect the moviemakers give themselves over to some of the worst aspects of football culture. This movie lionizes the idea of students martyring themselves for a ball game. Football culture, especially Division I college football, is among the most fanatical and fascistic aspects of American culture and in this movie Steinmark gives himself over completely to the team. The movie doesn’t think he’s a hero because he works hard; My All American holds Steinmark up as a role model because he’s willing to sacrifice everything for the team including his wellbeing and integrity. The story structure of My All American puts nothing else at stake. In reality, what made Steinmark heroic was the brave face he put on in the midst of a health crisis but this is almost an afterthought. This crisis doesn’t even occur until the last half hour of the picture and then the struggle is rushed through and entirely disconnected from the rest of the movie.
Bottom Line: My All American is an astonishingly misbegotten movie. The picture is a series of football clichés in a story that is fundamentally ill-conceived and executed in a cheap production.
Episode: #570 (November 22, 2015)