By this time in November the college and professional football seasons are in the full swing of things, which means it is the perfect time to sit down and enjoy a great football film.There are a lot of options out there, but if you are looking for some hard-hitting action you need not look further than the high school football based movie “Friday Night Lights.”
The film is based off the 1990 novel, “Friday Night Lights: a town, a team, and a dream,” by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist H.G. Bissinger. Bissinger followed the 1988 Permian Panthers of Odessa, Texas for the entire football season and was inspired by the fanatic football culture of West Texas. He entered the experience in search of a deeper understanding of the devotion to the sport at the high school level.
Although the book is the basis for the film, it focuses more on the political and social issues of Odessa that all stem from the obsession with football. These issues are centered around the racial and poverty segregation problems that the community has been experiencing.
The movie is an in depth look at the Panthers for the entire 1988 season on and off the field. The pressure on each individual on the team and the head coach originates from the winning tradition that Permian has experienced throughout its football history. Since the Panthers are frequent visitors to the Texas football state championship game, the community expects nothing less than the best from their beloved team every year.
Throughout the film, the story line focuses on three particular players and the head coach of the football team, in accordance to the progression of the season.
“Friday Night Lights” opens up with the Panther’s football radio station setting almost unrealistic goals for the upcoming season at the expense of head coach Gary Gaines. Prior to their first game, the word around the community is that if they do not make it to the playoffs, Coach Gaines will be out of a job. Gaines arrives at his home after a tough loss on Friday night to the sight of multiple “for sale” signs on his front lawn, a present from those in the Odessa community. After his overuse of his already injured star running back Boobie Miles, the radio airwaves become flooded with callers requesting his immediate termination as head coach. Throughout the entire film, Gaines struggles to keep his job, team, and family afloat.
Superstar running back Boobie Miles has a seemingly easy path to the NFL with his skill set entering the season. In a season opening blowout win, the overuse of Boobie results in a serious injury to his knee leaving him off the field for several weeks. As he sees his backup successfully lead his team to a few victories, Boobie and his Uncle Levy decide against doctors’ orders, that he will be unable to return to play against their week six district rival, Midland High.
As the doctor warned, Boobie’s knee is not strong enough for him to perform to the best of his ability and he tears his ACL, a season ending injury for the superstar.
Another focus of the film is on the fullback Don Billingsley. Billingsley comes from a long line of successful Panther football players, so the pressure to perform is immense. His father was a state champion on the 1972 Permian football team and continually reminds Don, throughout the season as he struggles to have the success of his father. In several emotionally intense scenes of the movie, Don’s alcoholic father abusively lashes out at him showing the audience that the film is about much more than football.
The only player with more pressure than Billingsley is starting quarterback Mike Winchell. Winchell is a timid kid with the responsibility of a grown man. He not only has the daunting task of leading the team to the playoffs with a hurt superstar, but he also has to take care of his sick mother at home. Winchell struggles to find consistency in his performance on the field, stemming from his constant disappointments in his family life. With no siblings or father to fall back on, he has to do well enough on the field to get a scholarship to college and provide for his ailing mother.
Director Peter Berg does a great job of portraying the constant do-or-die feeling of the team and community in the film. The film portrays an on-edge atmosphere that is an accurate depiction of the 1988 Permian season. As a viewer, you can feel the pressures that these teenagers experience during every game, practice and interaction with each other during the entire film. “Friday Night Lights” displays a roller coaster of emotions during the constant up and downs for the Panthers.
Even if you are not the biggest football fan, “Friday Night Lights” has plenty to offer to all audiences. The personal problems of the team are real enough to keep anyone emotionally invested throughout the whole film. You can’t help but root for the Panthers as bad luck strikes them. Friday Night Lights is a great way to cap off a long weekend of watching football.
Mark Gionta is a fourth-year majoring in professional studies and can be reached at MG649676@wcupa.edu.