Movie Review – The Longshots (2008)
by HELEN GEIB
The Longshots is about a girl who becomes the star quarterback of her town’s junior league football team and finds the surrogate father she needs in her uncle. It is a very nice movie with positive messages about girls’ self-esteem, fatherhood, good sportsmanship, and community revival. I strongly recommend it to the family audience, and it has a secondary audience in people like me who are suckers for a good inspirational sports drama.
The conventions of the inspirational sports drama provide the framework of the plot. As the title suggests, the film uses the genre’s ‘talented newcomer leads underdogs to the big game’ storyline. The heroine’s gender adds a breaking barriers element, and her uncle the ‘down on his luck coach finds new direction in his life’ element. This is proven material and the filmmakers sensibly trust it to work like it always does. That frees them to concentrate on the meat of the story and the aspect of the film that sets it apart from similar projects, the relationship between the fatherless Jasmine and her uncle Curtis.
Jasmine (Keke Palmer) is a lonely and withdrawn middle school student. She is an only child who has lived alone with her mother Claire since her father abandoned the family five years before. Concerned about her daughter’s obvious unhappiness, Claire persuades her brother-in-law Curtis (Ice Cube) to stay with Jasmine after school. Curtis, a star player on his high school football team who still loves the game, discovers Jasmine has natural athletic talent, appoints himself her personal trainer, and convinces her to try out for the team.
The Longshots is fundamentally about Jasmine’s need for a father and Curtis’ realization that stepping into the place his brother abdicated is the best thing he can do with his life. It is a touching story and the fact Jasmine’s situation is sadly commonplace only adds to its emotional resonance. The film benefits greatly from the natural and appealing performance by child actress Keke Palmer in the lead. Ice Cube is an actor with a very limited range, but a genial and likable screen presence in family films. He is at his best in the scenes between Curtis and Jasmine after they have overcome their initial awkwardness and discovered they are happy in each other’s company.
Home grown community revitalization is the film’s secondary theme, putting it in an estimable group that includes this year’s Be Kind Rewind and Barbershop and its sequel, likewise helmed by Ice Cube. The setting is an economically depressed small town in Illinois; the bleakness of the surroundings is emphasized by the season (Fall and Winter– football season). Curtis’ life mirrors his community’s. He has been out of work and just marking time since the factory that was the town’s main employer shut down. As his relationship with Jasmine gives his life purpose, so the town’s pride in its children motivates people to come together and make the small changes that mean so much in making a community a good place to live: cheering on the team at home games; painting the storefronts on Main Street; picking up the trash in the park; contributing a few dollars to the community fundraiser.
The Longshots is the improbable sophomore directing effort of Fred Durst, lead singer for the oft-reviled Limp Bizkit. His unobtrusive direction is appropriate for the story, which is simple and straightforward and best-suited to a simple and straightforward production.