There are not many
comedies depicting people living with a disability. And for a good reason, with
actors such as Ben Stiller and Johnny Knoxville playing to the lowest common
denominator in their association in films with people with disabilities. Too
easily bordering on parody or ridicule, the interactions had with characters
that live with a disability often service the arcs of characters without
disabilities so they can feel better about themselves.
While not entirely
bucking this trend is Goya-winning sports-comedy Champions, a film screening as part of the Spanish Film Festival
that follows forty-something-year-old professional basketball coach Marco
(Javier Gutiérrez) who is court ordered to coach a team of basketball players
(Los Amigos) living with disabilities so he may avoid jail time.
Frustrated with the
cards he has been dealt both on and off the court, Marco is willing to deceive,
sweet-talk and intimidate others to avoid the smallest inconvenience in his
life, often to the dismay of those close to him. His competitive edge and
desire to win (on occasion questioning whether opposing players do have a
disability) contrasts the needs of the Los Amigos, who look to basketball as a
way of feeling part of a team.
Fesser leans into Marco’s frustration communicating with the team, using it as
a drawcard for most of the humour, which is supported by a bellowing tuba score
working as a laugh track to lighten the mood and let the audience know it is
okay to laugh (but is it?). Fesser’s direction of the Los Amigos players edges
more into There is Something About Mary
territory than something that resembles Simple Jack in Tropic Thunder, presenting each team member as kind, even though they
are often a cause of frustration for the impatient Marco.
It wouldn’t be a
sports movie without someone changing for the better, with Marco slowly
chipping away once he learns the damage that his aggressive thoughts have and
the positive impact he has on the lives of people in the team. The gentle
nature of the Los Amigos draws you into the film, making you forget early on
that Marco’s attendance is court ordered, however, divulges into tropes of
manipulative fell-goodness that move at the same beat as a basketball bouncing
down a court.
Champions travels with its excessive two-hour length, which despite a fine
performance by Gutiérrez, complicates itself with multiple competing storylines
(the inclusion of issues with his wife as an example) that are of detriment to
the overall product. Perhaps the biggest fault of Champions is the consistency of its final act, elevating the stakes
and absurdity of the film which feel incompatible with the first 75% of the
flicks are your thing, Champions is
the film for you. For others, the intentions of Champions to paint people with disability respectfully shoots for
the three-pointer but misses.
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