Luke Abbate is a good-spirited high school student who has a love for playing football. One day while getting a ride from a classmate, he winds up in an accident due to reckless driving. Luke’s family gathers together at the hospital and prays for his recovery. After about 24 hours with no improvement, the hospital breaks the difficult news to the family, leading them to honor Luke’s decision to serve as a donor and decide it is time to let him move on. The family struggles to pull the pieces back together. Maryanne, while as strong as she could be in the face of tragedy, starts to deteriorate. Steven periodically gets overwhelmed by the emotions but buries himself in his work , causing him to become more distant. For Jon, his return to Wake Forest starts out difficult but football serves as a way to honor the love he has for his departed brother. Along with the spirit Jon brings along, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons surprise the college football world by destroying the low expectations and adopting the tradition of the 5th quarter.
Starring: Andie MacDowell (Maryanne Abbate), Aidan Quinn (Steven Abbate), Ryan Merriman (Jon Abbate), Andrea Powell (Bonnie), Anessa Ramsey (Lynn Garber), Jillian Batherson (Haley Scott), Bonnie Johnson (Joan Kinsey), Patrick Stogner (Henry), Michael Harding (Coach Jim Grobe), Stefan Guy (Luke Abbate), Jon Stafford (Coach Billings), Steve Uria (himself)
This tear-jerker is led by dramatic actress Andie MacDowell. While it may be unclear who the true focal character is, MacDowell certainly steals the screen whether she is reacting to the tragedy of losing her son or trying to reconcile her broken heart. In the interview with the real life Maryanne, Mrs. Abbate acknowledged how well MacDowell exhibited her pain, anguish and depression. Adding to the emotional roller coaster of MacDowell’s character was Aidan Quinn. Though also attempting to express similar heartbreak and anguish, Quinn’s tears felt a bit more forced. Tragedy can certainly tear down personal barriers, but his portrayal seemed a little less believable as the grieving father. Ryan Merriman has to play a young man trying to survive in two different worlds: his home of heart-wrenching pain and a college campus searching for guidance. He expresses the emotions of surviving family strife fairly well, though the actually development of his character is stagnated jumping between the two environments. One of the family members that seemed to be overly underdeveloped was Jon’s sister, played by Mandy Manis. Outside of a scene with a phone call between Manis and Merriman, she fades into the background of each scene she appears. Luke Abbate, though only appearing more toward the beginning of the film, is well played by Stefan Guy. Coach Jim Grobe certainly hits the spotlight, portrayed by Michael Harding. As supporting characters, Steve Uria and Jon Stafford actually make the best use of their screen time in their connection they make with the grieving, lost brother.
Rick Bieber’s biography of the death of a young football player and inspiration of an entire football program and fan base is emotionally strong but truly two different stories in one: the effect of a the loss of a loved one on a close Christian family and the overcoming of adversity of a football program that no one believed in. In actuality, the title of the film is misleading because the film is much more focused on the family than the actual accomplishment of the Wake Forest football program. The first half-hour of the film is easily one of the more tear-jerking periods of the film in recent production. With the film based on the true experiences of the Abbate family, it is not a surprise that the focus slide away from the athletic accomplishments.
Focusing on the family strife, the Christian undertones are certainly present but not overbearing. As the community rallies behind the hopeful recovery of one of its sons, the family falls into depression and religion is one of the outlets that helps guide their journey through difficult times. Each of the family members seems to handle the grief differently. Maryanne quietly suffered as she attempted to hold herself together, compared to Steven, whose outbursts rocked the stability of the family. For Jon, football became a distraction and then a way to honor his brother. At home, he fell much more toward the nurturing role, knowing that his sister was unable to fully express her sadness and his mother needed someone to take care of her. The best way to describe the feeling of this side of the film is that it hits you like a Lifetime movie with loss and finding one’s way.
On the football side, the cinematography was actually fairly well done, with an inclusion of game footage and reenacted plays on the field by the actors of the film. The major reasons why this part feels separate from the rest of the film are that there is certainly little development of the team and individual players in comparison to the Abbate family and it feels like football is just a theme used to push the rest of the story. While there was drama on the football side with the support from Coach Grobe and Coach Billings’s account of his personal loss, there was no seamless connection like there was in Rudy or The Blind Side.
This is truly an emotional and positive story of finding hope, but do not expect a miracle level presentation at an Oscar level. You should only be prepared to shed some tears and develop some basic connections with the Abbate family.
Dan’s Rating: 2.5/5