Wildcats (1986)

Directed by Michael Ritchie
Written by Ezra Sacks

Times have changed, and quite a bit thankfully, but there is still gender equality issues today. Perhaps an odd opening line to a review of this film, perhaps not, but it’s what struck me while watching this film. For me, it is a personal matter. When I was a kid, baseball was everything. It is a game I love to this day, and one in which my whole family is involved. My two brothers and I were playing every spring, summer and fall league. My dad, predictably, was a coach, and perhaps the greatest coach pitcher there ever was (seriously, he could find any kids bat, and sometimes he had to). My mom was involved too. In fact, one fall league, she decided to coach one of my brothers and I. It was a great team, we had a lot of fun, and we were good. My mom spent so much time watching baseball, there is no doubt in my mind she was a good coach, and yet, there was at least one dad who always felt like she wasn’t doing a good job. I was too young at the time to realize or even be aware, but surely her gender had something to do with. How sad.

Wildcats tells a similar story in many ways. Molly McGrath (Goldie Hawn) may not exactly resemble my mother, but her experience likely does in many ways. Molly was raised on football, has lived it her entire life. She is the track coach at a local high school instead though, but when the JV job opens up, she applies, much to the chagrin of the varsity head coach (Bruce McGill), who jokingly offers her the varsity job instead. The catch? It’s at an inner city school whose team failed to win a single game the previous year. Full of off beat and colorful players (Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, Mykelti Williamson), the Central Wildcats do not take much to coaching, especially from a female. But determined to prove herself, Molly begins to transform the team into a group of believers, believers in themselves and in her.

I’ve never been a fan of Goldie Hawn, and her performance here does little to sway my opinion, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect the material itself. Hawn’s fish out of water often lacks subtlety and her performative streak can get on my nerves. It shows itself here as well, but there are quieter, dramatic, and more poignant moments as well. Hawn is not the attraction, it’s the process, and the character of Molly that are interesting and even inspiring. Sitting back and looking at this film from a 2018 lens, it’d be easy to dismiss it as cheesy, predictable and middle of the road. It largely is. However, one must also consider its place within the football movie lexicon. In this way, its rags to riches, underdog story is a little more original than it probably gets credit for. It doesn’t make the film any less predictable or cheesy, but this is a case of the journey is the destination.

Finding a cast this rich was a very nice surprise, especially considering I thought I was getting a Goldie Hawn movie. Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes and even Mykelti Williamson would go on to further stardom, so that being said that don’t get a whole lot of time to shine here. Each plays a bit part, but it’s always nice to see future stars in their early roles. They are especially inspired choices because they actually fit their demographic in this movie: young and athletic. It’s hard to compare high school to pro ball, apples to oranges really, but in watching these football movies I’ve found it startling how old some of the stars are in portraying these strong, young, athletic characters. This being set in high school, the actors are more appropriate. I don’t have to be convinced that Burt Reynolds is a quarterback or Nick Nolte a wide receiver. Those days are thankfully behind us.

For a story all about the process, the process is the most interesting part of this movie, not necessarily the game moments. That being said, it certainly felt light in that aspect, as the narrative attempted to balance Molly’s work as a coach and that as a single mother fighting for her right to raise her kids. In fact, this balancing act becomes what the movie is truly about, female power, Molly’s ability to work and mother at the same time, something her ex-husband fails to see as he accuses her new role in an inner city school as negatively influencing the children. Forced to chose between the two at one point, Molly’s character shows the wherewithal, power and determination required of a single mother who must raise her children and balance a working lifestyle, especially one in which she is influencing young people. This is what makes Wildcats a surprisingly palatable movie. It’s an underrated entry into this marathon thus far.

★★ 1/2 – Average

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