Everybody’s All-American (1988)

Directed by Taylor Hackford
Written by Thomas Rickman

The football movie is not exactly a prestige picture type of genre, and especially up to this point it has been fairly obvious that the throwaway comedy is the preferred type of movie to pair with the sport of an oblong ball and hitting each other. American football is probably barbaric and a little foreign to most outside of the United States, although the NFL has grown its brand worldwide recently, but I would say it’s probably a little barbaric and foreign for most awards groups as well. I could research my list and come up with an exact number of Oscar nominations, for instance, but a quick glance tells me that football movies are never really taken that seriously. But then there’s Everybody’s All-American, a film with the tone of an Oscar contending prestige picture, one with performances worthy of your consideration. It’s also a movie that garnered zero nominations, so…back to what I was just saying about football movies…

Gavin Grey (Dennis Quaid), or the Grey Ghost as he is known to his fans, is the star player for the LSU Tigers, leading them to a national championship as their lead tailback behind an offensive line that includes his close friend Lawrence (John Goodman). He’s everybody’s All-American. A clean cut, straight laced star with pageant queen Babs (Jessica Lange) for a girlfriend, Gavin has everything he could ever ask for, including a doting younger cousin nicknamed Cake (Timothy Hutton), who adores both Gavin and Babs. But once Grey finds struggles in the NFL with the Washington Redskins, and eventually success, he begins to grapple with the idea of fading fame, of no longer mattering to both his fans and admirers as well as to his family, including Babs. He must pull himself together as his career progresses to not only find a new meaning for life after football, but also for life with his family and friends.

I was not yet of the age or interest to be able to tell you whether this was a film that had Oscar buzz, or to know what else got nominated that year that may or may not be better and more deserving than some of the elements in this film, but I am genuinely surprised it didn’t get something. It’s clearly the type of character driven, performance driven, period piece prestige picture that plays right into things. And quite honestly, it’s a solidly good movie and one well worth checking out. Dennis Quaid is quite good here as Gavin Grey, a man struggling with life after football, a topic that has not yet really come up as a central theme in this football marathon, but one well worth considering given the brutal and very fleeting nature of the sport. In today’s day and age, players safety is not only monitored much more closely than the era depicted in the film, but players make a whole lot more money too, setting them up much better for life after football. Quaid’s performance is effective in relating his passion for the sport as well as his fears of what happens when the no longer cheer for the Grey Ghost.

But the real performance to concentrate on here is Jessica Lange, whose Babs is the perfect dose of doting, tough, and independent. To see her character evolve while Grey’s does not is a telling narrative development. Gavin is stuck in the past glory while Babs must make do with a growing family and a further distant and absent husband and father to her children. She takes solace in Timothy Hutton’s Cake, who also turns in a good performance. The relationship between Babs and Cake always feels just a little too close, and that tension is felt and delivered very effectively. Even John Goodman, albeit in a small, over-the-top role, is entertaining to watch, as his Lawrence displays the perfect dichotomy between what Gavin wants from life, and what Babs wants.

It’s quite telling that the tone of the film shifts from a joyous, glory-ridden time of college, when Grey is the hero of an entire student body, a champion, to his time in the NFL when his body is under constant siege while his time away from home grows more and more frustrating to his family life. This is a well put together, well directed and well acted film. And like I said, one which seems to fit in with what Oscar typically looks for. A quick look at the box office numbers and it appears to have bombed there as well. I really can’t explain why, as I was quite taken with the film and found it to be a wealth of quality and entertainment. It certainly ranks as one of the more polished and better football movies I’ve thus far seen.

★★★ – Liked It

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