Although genres such as the vampire movie reign supreme in their ability to generate criticism over repetition, the sports redemption may just top it. Regardless of the back story, the zero to first, Cinderella tale surrounding a sports team has been played out what always seems like one too many times. The Winning Season doesn't offer anything new. Bad team, down-and-out coach, unlikely bond, redemption/salvation/what-have-you. Yet, even with familiar problems and unnecessary, radical images of what it's like to be a teenage girl, Winning Season comes through when it needs to.
Sam Rockwell plays Bill, a former basketball star and divorced father of a teenage daughter who has been beat down by life's disappointments and stresses. When school principal, Terry (Rob Corddry), offers him the job of coaching the girls varsity basketball team, Bill grudgingly accepts. As expected, things start off shaky, but improve steadily as the story goes on.
Those looking for a narrative that avoids the traditional route will be disappointed. Winning Season travels a route so often traveled that it's borderline predictable when the moments of trouble arise; however, the film does a decent enough avoiding cliches and cringe-worthy moments of pure sap, which are commonplace in these sports redemption movies. While there's not a whole lot of depth behind the characters and the majority are thrust upon with typical or ridiculously out-of-place problems, the film runs on a real level that doesn't try to sugarcoat things or make situations seem less real than they'd be if you witnessed them yourself.
As previously mentioned, the problems surrounding the teenage girls and our divorced lead are a bit played out, but that doesn't exactly mean they're illogical; rather, Winning Season shows the sometimes easy, sometimes difficult solutions to these problems. For the beat-up, drunken Bill, his actions have real consequences that he has to live with. For the spirited Abbie (Emma Roberts), her love life isn't simple, but it's just a matter of growing up and finding equal ground. For Tamra, daughter of Terry, her sexuality is confusing and an obvious subject of stress. All problems are tackled in a proper manner with resorting to ridiculous measures to make sure everything works out, both on and off the court.
The obvious star of the show is Rockwell, whose acting can produce both disgust and sympathy. His appearance is as telling as his foul, rude behavior. At the same time, it's his exact rough edges that make his formed relationship with his team that much more touching and real. The chemistry between Rockwell and his young co-stars is powerful, though how they got from the point of disliking him to loving him is somewhat blurred.
The Winning Season is grounded. It knows how to make an impact, but sometimes is bogged down by its worn out genre. With talented players and enough goodwill, heartfelt interaction and realism to go around, this film just barely emerges victorious.