I didn’t go into My All-American expecting great things. The trailer made the film seem like a pretty stock-standard, sports-centric rise to glory tale cashing in on the star power of Aaron Eckhart as the coach in order to support the no-name main cast. And all of these things are true, but there is so much more to this film: it is a steaming pile of shit. Out of respect for other moviegoers, I needed to restrain my laughter at how inept and awful this film turned out to be. This goes beyond being merely formulaic; it hits all the standard plot beats of a sports movie without understanding the emotional weight that needs to back them up, which makes for awkward and unintentionally hilarious cinema.
Ostensibly based on a true story, My All-American follows the meteoric rise of college football athlete Freddie Steinmark. He never won the All-American title, but he is remembered fondly by his coach and teammates as being smart, dedicated, and a lot tougher than his small stature would lend credit to. And this is pretty much the film’s key failing: Freddie is too damn perfect. He doesn’t exhibit any sort of character flaw that would lend him some humanity, like he’s Captain America but without a narrative that pushes against his blind idealism. Even when Freddie is diagnosed with fatal bone cancer and told that his leg will need to be amputated toward the end of the film, he takes the news with a grim certainty that he will be fine in the end. This makes him an incredibly dull character and thus all conflict in the film feels entirely meaningless.
But what really makes this film so riot-worthy is the incompetent direction that barely holds all its working parts together. Characters come off as flat and token, as if the actors are reading cue cards from just off-screen. Even Eckhart can’t seem to give more than half a shit with his performance, which could have been a lifesaver in a sea of talentless hacks. This may have a lot to do with the script, which is peppered with clichés and Hallmark moments that range from cringeworthy to sidesplitting. My favorite culmination of these various idiotic factors is when Freddie is trying to teach his roommate how to pray, and the roommate looks down at his hands as if he just cannot figure out how to clasp them together. All of this is stitched together through the language of training montages and period-topical references that feel as artificial as they are hackneyed.
The only saving grace of this film is that director Angelo Pizzo clearly knows how to shoot football plays, which begs the question of why his talents aren’t better put to use by one of the major television networks on Sunday afternoons. This film could be called amateur at best, but is more likely the result of lazy writing and an over-reliance on the likeability of its protagonist. But a protagonist doesn’t need to be simply likeable, but also relatable, with actual struggles that he is actually STRUGGLING to overcome. Instead, this film gives us a messianic figure who can do anything and came to a tragic end through no fault of his own, but its narrative is wrapped in such an accidentally comical presentation that what little character the film had going for it cannot be taken seriously. This is a film that deserves a drinking game, but definitely not the cost of your ticket stub.