- Running time:
- 106 minutes
- Sam Rockwell -
- Emma Roberts -
- Rob Corddry -
- Shareeka Epps -
- Emily Rios -
Divorced, alienated from his teenage daughter and working a dead end restaurant job, Bill (Sam Rockwell) is on a road to nowhere, until his old friend Terry (Rob Corddry) offers him a gig coaching the varsity girls basketball team at a local school. Bill doesn’t believe girls are cut out for basketball but he’s still shocked by what he finds: a squad of five bored girls with no training and a back-up player with a broken foot. Motivated by a good-natured bus driver turned assistant coach (Margo Martindale), Bill turns the team around, but how far can they really go?
The buzz: “Winning Season” premiered at Sundance back in 2009 and was immediately picked up for theatrical release by Lionsgate. Then the studio mysteriously held the movie back for almost two years. Rockwell might be a little more familiar to audiences after his scene-stealing role in “Iron Man 2,” and co-star Rooney Mara recently made headlines as the future Lisbeth Salandar in Hollywood’s take on “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” but there’s still little reason to believe the movie can break out in its quiet limited release over Labor Day weekend.
The verdict: A modest release suits a modest film—it’s formulaic, directed with little style by James C. Strouse (“Grace is Gone”) and too obviously low budget to compete with Hollywood’s flashier sports fantasies. But for all the film’s shortcomings, it’s still a shaggy underdog worth seeking out, primarily for Rockwell’s sensational performance. With a greasy moustache, disheveled hair and ratty clothes, Rockwell turns Bill into an alcoholic sad sack who doesn’t ask for sympathy, but gets it anyway. He may be the opposite of a nurturing coach, but Bill’s hilariously inappropriate behavior makes the perfect showcase for Rockwell’s fearless talent and razor-sharp comic timing. It’s too bad the girls on the squad are nowhere near as well defined—only Emma Roberts stands out, and that’s by virtue of having the most screen time. At least the young actresses bond believably as a team, under the supervision of a man who still has a lot of growing up to do himself.
Did you know? Strouse conceived Martindale’s sweetly scene-stealing role after watching her star turn in Alexander Payne’s excellent short in the anthology film “Paris je t’aime.”
Movie theaters and showtimes for The Winning Season in New York.
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