In the midst of sad, divisive stories about race in America (yes, I’m talking about Trayvon Martin and Paula Deen), are you ready for a happy, unifying story that transcends race and class without ignoring social problems? This film will sweep over you and offer comfort like a breath of fresh air and a sense of possibilities for a better way of being.
And, in some ways, there couldn’t be a more American story out there because this film also features football – not how football builds character, as some have maintained, but how the game reveals character, as my new hero Coach Bill Courtney says in the documentary Undefeated.
I eagerly anticipated seeing this film after it won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2012, but it never seemed to be available for viewing when I was, and by the time it became readily available, seeing it seemed less time-sensitive. Undefeated was always “on my list” but invariably crowded out by newer releases.
That’s okay because today is probably when I needed to see this particularly inspiring and even magical film. As a filmmaker friend of mine told me when he saw it pre-Oscar hoopla, filmmakers Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin “caught lightning in a bottle.”
Yes, they have captured a lovely story that is rare and beautiful and have shared it with the world making lightning in a bottle the perfect metaphor. It is easy to be cynical and tired and afraid with the glut of tragic stories, misguided intentions. and ignorance permeating news and social media right now.
The perfect antidote may be watching one dedicated coach care about a team of young men as people and love them so much that he changes lives. Multiple moments in this film are breathtaking.
Did I mention that the high school students from North Memphis, Tennessee are all black and that the coach and most of his assistants are white? That the players are from poor families and broken homes and that the coach is an affluent business owner? That Coach Courtney’s personal story makes him uniquely qualified to try to fill gaps in the younger men’s lives because he understands their aches and empty spaces so similar to those he experienced as a boy?
You don’t have to be a fan of the television series Friday Night Lights to appreciate Undefeated, but if you love the series (as I do), you may tremble or get goosebumps to see this real-life “molder of men” in action.
The film is pretty standard in the sense that it documents one stand-out season for an athletic team – we’ve all seen that before – but it sets a new standard for making the story resonate and demonstrating how hard work, sacrifice, service, and love can change the world one person at a time.
I cried four times watching the movie. Four. I cried three times telling someone about it. Three. And, it’s not often I get teary-eyed at the movies.
Just so you know, these were happy tears.