Champions: Not even a hug from Woody Harrelson could make this film feel any warmer-hearted
By Kevin Iannucci, irishtimes.com Wed Mar 8 2023
Kaitlin Olson, best known for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, is so darn good – her comic timing is impeccable
What makes 'Champions' a treat is the deftness with which Mark Rizzo’s script sidesteps sentimentality in favour of something more raucously truthful... --Mark Kermode (Observer) (UK)
Some critics are saying the film is patronizing and making a mockery of the disabled community, but that’s not the case. The cast brings out the best in each other and all are true champions. --T.J. Callahan (AWFJ.org)
Even those morally appalled by the Farrelly brothers – creators of Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary – must grudgingly admit they have always shown unfussy (if occasionally controversial) solidarity with the disabled community. Nearly 20 years ago they produced The Ringer, in which the awful Johnny Knoxville went among plucky developmentally disabled athletes and gained humility. Now Bobby Farrelly casts Woody Harrelson as another inconvenienced loser with similar prejudices to overcome.
The scenario sounds like the result of a second attempt by George and Jerry to pitch their sitcom in Seinfeld. Marcus, a minor-league basketball coach, loses his job after a characteristic meltdown on the sideline (is that the word?) and, boozed up to the eyeballs, crashes his car into a police vehicle. The judge sentences him to community service coaching a basketball team for players with mental disabilities.
At this point in the review you will expect some crack about how it is hardly possible to spoil the protagonist’s journey towards understanding. That is literally true here. It takes mere minutes for Marcus to fall for the charming band of oddballs – all played by developmentally disabled actors – who make up his team. There is never the slightest doubt he will stay with them past those curiously named events we meet in so many American sports films. State? Regionals? You know how this goes.
The film fights hard to draw humour from the players’ often eccentric demeanours without holding them up to ridicule. For the most part it succeeds. Adapted from a Spanish film entitled (what else?) Campeones, Farrelly’s picture could hardly feel more warm-hearted if it came with a beaker of hot chocolate and an actual hug from Woody Harrelson.
Away from the court, Marcus gets into an initially casual relationship with a perky amateur actor who turns out to be the sister of a vital team member. Kaitlin Olson, best known for the apparently eternal It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, is so darn good – her comic timing is impeccable – one is tempted to sue the entire industry for underusing her in romantic comedies. Then again, they barely make such things any more. It’s enough to make you spit.
Champions: Matt Cook, Kaitlin Olson, Woody Harrelson and Cheech Marin in Bobby Farrelly’s film
Director: Bobby Farrelly Cert: 12A Starring: Woody Harrelson, Kaitlin Olson, Matt Cook, Ernie Hudson, Madison Tevlin, Joshua Felder, Kevin Iannucci Running Time: 2 hrs 4 mins
Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist