Champions Movie Review

Champions movie poster

I’m not sure if drunk drivers are actually assigned community service involving coaching underprivileged sports teams, but it worked for The Mighty Ducks and it works now for the basketball drama-comedy Champions. Woody Harrelson stars in the entertaining film, which has him playing a troubled sports genius who is court ordered to coach a Special Olympics basketball team packed with a hodgepodge of players and personalities.

Harrelson is well cast as Marcus and appeared to clearly have fun starring alongside several individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD)—who in turn clearly had a blast making a movie that showcases the unexpected capabilities and charisma of such people.

I’ve worked with Best Buddies—a non-profit focused on individuals with IDD and one that has close familial ties to the Special Olympics (both organizations were formed by a Kennedy)—for ten years through my day job, and so am well acquainted with their mission and what people with IDD are capable of. But I wouldn’t blame somebody sitting down to watch this movie to be surprised to discover that people with Down syndrome and other disabilities can live on their own, hold jobs, and function independently.

Champions, as much as it’s a basketball movie (and not a bad one, for that matter), champions the unexpected awesomeness of individuals with IDD—and positions them as real people, not side characters. Harrelson may carry the film, but everyone around him gives it life. And energy. It’s impossible not to smile.

Thankfully, Champions is more than a showcase for people with disabilities—it earns its keep, too. The script is sharp and often funny. Harrelson is a joy to watch and perfectly cast, but the movie takes full advantage of the talent of everyone involved. There’s the guy (Matthew Von Der Ahe) who loves to talk about his two girlfriends—the running joke delivers with a fantastic one-liner in the final minutes of the movie. There’s Kevin Iannucci, who plays the lovable but stubborn Johnny. And of course there is Cosentino, played by Madison Tevlin, who drops some of the best F-bombs you’ll hear all year.

Champions is a feel-good movie, but it’s got just enough crassness and dirty humor to keep things edgy (the movie is directed by Bobby Farrelly, after all).

My biggest criticism is its length; at just over two hours, it feels unnecessarily long. A movie like this would have benefited from being 20 minutes shorter. A little leanness would have taken Champions from entertaining to must-see.

Still, there is plenty to enjoy and enough to love to make Champions well worth a dribble to the cineplex.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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