Our Winning Season

Director: Joseph Ruben   
Scott Jacoby, Deborah Benson, Dennis Quaid

I think like most people, I try to seek out and engage one way or another in activities that I enjoy. There is this web site of mine, for example; I love the activity of seeking out movies I know little to nothing about, watching them, and then write in my reviews about how I feel about these movies. I also love watching more well-known movies. In fact, on average I watch at least one movie a day. Maybe I love movies too much, and I should get a life and find some other enjoyable interests to balance my leisure time some more. Seriously, there are other things that I enjoy doing, such as reading (and not just books that concern movies.) But although there are plenty of things in my life that I enjoy and that I seek out, there are also some things that I absolutely hate, things that make me actively try to avoid any personal contact with. One of the biggest things that I hate are sports. I don't just dislike sports, I despise sports. Even as a child, I felt the same way about sports that I do now. For example, I use to dread every time hockey season would start in my country, because it would mean that my favorite TV shows would be shoved aside in order to show the boring spectacle of people passing a puck over and over and over. What's so exciting about that, when you can watch movies where people pass bullets to each other, bullets that often rip through bodies and leave gaping and bloody wounds? Plus, another reason that I hated hockey season was that my peers at school would use this occasion to talk about nothing but hockey, and knowing next to nothing about it, it would mean I was often alone with no one to talk to.

There were other things that I hated about sports, some of them still reasons that I hate sports to this day. One of these reasons was that for many sports, it doesn't seem that you need to use a lot of brain power to play them. Throwing or kicking a ball to someone else, for one thing, seems to be something that even the most feeble-minded person could do. Whenever I saw the stereotype of a dumb jock in places like Mad Magazine, I would agree that this stereotype had some basis in fact. But I'm getting depressed and worked up into a fury by talking about this certain subject that I hate. So I will now go back to the more pleasant subject of stuff that I love, movies. There are many things about movies that I love, as I said earlier. One of those movie-related things that I love are certain studios and the product that they turn out. In other reviews, I have stated that I love movies from Cannon and Nu Image/Millennium Films. Another studio's output that has interested me just as much is American-International. Their determination, unlike that of most other Hollywood studios of their time, to make product that would appeal to teenagers and young adults resulted in dozens of movies both interesting and appealing to this viewer (and countless other viewers.) In the '50s, there were horror movies like I Was A Teenage Werewolf and Teenage Frankenstein. In the '60s there was the Avalon/Funicello beach party movies and Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe-themed movies. In the early '70s, they turned to blaxploitation with product like Blacula and Truck Turner.

After the early '70s, things made an interesting turn in the company. Company head Samuel Z. Arkoff slowed down considerably in the movies he personally produced, relying more on pickups made by others. And the product A.I.P. was releasing started to have appearances of movies the Our Winning Seasoncompany had shown little to no interest before - movies that were serious in nature. There was the Annie Hall rip-off Something Short Of Paradise, the teen drama California Dreaming, and the movie being reviewed here, the teen drama Our Winning Season. Was Arkoff striving for respectability at this point? Who knows. Anyway, when I found this movie it seemed irresistible to me for two reasons. One was that it was an A.I.P. movie like few I'd seen before. And second was that the movie concerned itself with a subject I hate - sports. I was intrigued by the challenge of reviewing a movie with a subject I disliked. Here's the plot description from the back of the DVD box: "'A fresh young cast' (Variety) - including Scott Jacoby, Deborah Benson and Dennis Quaid (in one of his earliest screen roles) - stars in this triumphant story about going the distance... no matter what the cost. 'Sensitive and touching' (Boxoffice), Our Winning Season is a thrilling and inspiring tale about chasing your dream - one mile at a time... David Wakefield (Jacoby) is a high school track athlete who can't seem to pull himself out of second place - on the track or in his love life. But when a tragedy strikes, David must summon all his strength and courage in a bid to win the race of his life... and the heart of the girl who believes in him."

Although this plot description is pretty sparse, I have a good idea that you are pretty sure how exactly the movie plays out. The plot description suggests the classic "underdog" theme, and since the smash hit Rocky came out just two years earlier, Our Winning Season would seem to be most likely a basic copy of that movie, just changing the sport to running and the age of the lead character. But that's actually not the case. The way the movie actually plays out is more like American Graffiti, though taking place not over one night, but a much longer period of time. Like American Graffiti, the cast of Our Winning Season is made almost entirely of youths, with almost no adults making an appearance during the movie's events. Also, both movies are set in the 1960s. While the decision to set American Graffiti in 1962 ultimately made sense, just why Our Winning Season was set in 1967 is a mystery. Practically all the events of the movie could have easily been set in the present day with absolutely no rewriting needed. As for the material that does need the 1967 setting - mostly concerning the Vietnam war and how it affects the characters - it's so thinly done that a quick and easy rewrite could update all of the story to the present day. Another reason why the makers of this movie should have updated the script to the present day is the sometimes poor presentation of period detail. Sharp-eyed viewers, for one thing, will realize that the local drive-in theater in the movie is showing the Frankie & Annette movie Fireball 500 in 1.33:1 scope instead of 2.35:1 Panavision. Okay, that is excessive nitpicking, so I'll pick a more appropriate period flaw, the music - or rather, the lack of it. Although this movie concerns youths, there are no classic songs on the soundtrack, just a couple of syrupy and "sensitive" songs by David Loggins of "Please Come To Boston" fame.

It's pretty clear that Arkoff didn't empty his purse enough for this movie, not just because there is very little in this movie that says "1967", but also because there are some slipshod moments that anyone also seeing them in the screening room would have demanded some reshoots. There is one scene where we see a car traveling down a well-maintained highway. The movie cuts to the interior of the car for a few seconds, then cuts back to the car suddenly running down cracked pavement with no divider lines. An even more embarrassing moment is when someone spraypaints the name "Cathy" (with a "C") on the side of the bridge, and subsequent shots of the graffiti state "Kathy" (yes, with a "K").  Then there are moments that come across as plain cheap, such as only four cars being visible in one long scene at the local drive-in, or at the opening race scene where we hear (but never see) a huge crowd rooting for the protagonist. So you can now see how the movie suffered from having an unsubstantial budget. But the problems of Our Winning Season are not just limited to this. Many of the movie's faults can be traced to the screenplay. Personally, I could give the screenplay a pass for not bringing up much detail of the period it covers. The movie could have compensated by bringing up experiences and characters that are universal to viewers even to this day. But I couldn't buy most of these characters and the situations they are in. One problem is with the actors chosen for the movie. Some of the movie's actors are not without talent, but a fatal flaw almost all of the actors have is that they all look too old to be high school students or recent graduates. They all look like people in their mid-20s who are desperately trying to recapture their teenage years, and it's embarrassing to see these thinning-haired, mature-faced individuals trying to be something they are not.

But even more convincing-looking actors wouldn't have been able to do much with the script. As I said, the movie seems to have been inspired by American Graffiti with its multiple characters and storylines in the movie. While Graffiti managed to give us fleshed-out characters and satisfying mini-stories, all of the characters and stories in Our Winning Season are so thin and unsatisfying that at times it feels like the material for one character and the character's story had been divided up to be shared by everyone. The little these characters do isn't enough to make us care about them. Although this is one of those movies with a Big Race at the end, we never find out why the protagonist wants to win it so badly. Another example is when the friends of one the characters arrange for him to get some easy sex. After the sex, the character goes running down the street and exclaims, "Whooo!" The scene then ends, and not only is this incident never referred to again, there seems to be no point for the scene to be there in the first place. It's not like there isn't any potential with these characters. In the first part of the movie, I was intrigued by the fact that the main character's sister had a Vietnam-bound boyfriend who was friendly with the main character. I thought there would be some interesting moments as the main character tries to balance the relationships he has with these two people he thinks highly of. But except for one half-hearted scene between the brother and sister late in the movie after a tragedy happens (which I'm sure you can guess), none of these three people talk to each other in a way I could believe real people would talk. Nobody becomes flesh-and-blood in this movie, so during the climactic race sequence, I simply didn't care about if the protagonist would win, or what the fates of the other characters would be. Hell, they even didn't seem to care about that themselves, so why should we? Judging from this movie and other failed stabs at respectability like De Sade and A Matter Of Time, Arkoff should have stayed with making trash - at least he would have gained the respect of grindhouse and drive-in audiences.

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See also: Bad Company, High School Hellcats, The Rivals