Sundance Movie Review: The Winning Season

At Sundance in 2005, I fell in love with a little movie called Lonesome Jim, which was directed by Steve Buscemi and starred Casey Affleck. The film wasn't necessarily incredible, but the screenplay by newcomer James C Strouse really connected with me, even though my life is nothing similar to anything shown in the film itself. I connected to the authenticity behind the characters and the story. I told one of my friends at the time that Strouse was going to be a screenwriter in demand five years down the line.

Strouse decided to direct his next screenplay effort, 2007's Grace is Gone, which was a Sundance hit, and a record breaking sale at the time. I really loved the film but felt that it was a bit too melodramatic. Not necessarily the screenplay, but some of the performances were a bit over the top. The fact that the film contained undertones of the Iraq war resulted in a disappointing box office return (it's also worth mentioning that The Weinstein Co couldn't sell shit to a manure factory). I think I wrote in my review that Strouse should probably stick to writing the scripts instead of directing them. Boy was I wrong.

The Winning Season stars Sam Rockwell as an a**hole alcoholic busboy who is given a chance to coach his local girl's high school varsity basketball team. He has a strained relationship with his daughter (Emma Roberts), and only gets to see her once a week. Rockwell has described the movie as Bad News Bears meets Half Nelson meets Hoosiers, and that is a very accurate comparison.

It's worth mentioning that Strouse's semi-autobiographical first screenplay Lonesome Jim involved a story line where Jim (played by Casey Affleck) has to take over his brother's girls youth basketball team. But Strouse claimed at the premiere screening question and answer session that coaching a girls basketball team was not derived from any real life experience beyond watching his kids play.

Some might say that the story might be a bit derivative and obvious, but what sports film isn't? Strouse throws in enough wrenches to keep you guessing, and gives the characters just enough unique spin to keep you glued to the screen. In a day and age when every sports film is candy coated and released by Disney, it is refreshing to see a story set in a more authentic relatable world. The Winning Season is laugh out loud funny and the special kind of touching that only James C Strouse can give you. Filled with wonderful performances and sharp dialogue, this film proves that Strouse is the real deal, a writer/director to watch.

/Film Rating: 8.5 out of 10