Take a Drink: each time a character says, “Steinmark.”
Take a Drink: each time a character says, “Football.”
Take a Drink: each time a touchdown is scored.
Do a Shot: when Coach Royal gives a long speech in the locker-room.
Shogun a Beer: when you see Linda’s classic red Ford Mustang.
By: Amelia Solomon (Four Beers) –
My All American is a film about Freddie Steinmark (Finn Wittrock), a college football player for the University of Texas at Austin. Steinmark is small, weighing less than 165 pounds, and also short in stature. But through sheer fortitude and never-ending practice, he’s recruited by Coach Darrell Royal (Aaron Eckhart) to play for the Texas Longhorns in the position of Safety. With one-hundred percent devotion on the field and non-stop defensive tackling, Steinmark helps lead his team to the Cotton Bowl. However, a pain in his leg, which Steinmark tries to ignore, threatens his lifetime dream of beating Notre Dame and making it into the NFL.
Directed and written by Angelo Pizzo, who also produced and wrote high school and college sports films Hoosiers and Rudy, My All American is a feel-good movie appropriate for families and football enthusiasts. This is Pizzo’s first feature film that he’s directed, and the screenplay is based on the book Courage Beyond the Game: The Freddie Steinmark Story by Jim Dent.
Although this film centers on Steinmark, and actor Finn Wittrock carries the film for the most part, the standout is Aaron Eckhart as Coach Royal. With a subtle Texas drawl, he brings humanity to Royal and gives layers to the familiar archetype coach character, which in lesser hands could have went the way of stereotype. Coach Royal cares about his players, just as much as he cares about winning. He serves as a father figure to Steinmark both on and off the field. Eckhart is able to say a lot without speaking. His acting is evident in his facial expressions, and it was reminiscent of his breakout role in Thank You For Smoking. In fact, it made me think about how underutilized Eckhart has been in current cinema.
With an almost two-hour running time, My All American is full of football, as it should be. But any film that centers on a sport can run into trouble with boring a viewer, confusing a viewer, or forgetting plot. Fortunately, this film does not fall victim to these common missteps. Pizzo spends a large bulk of time in the second half of the film on just one game between the Longhorns and the University of Arkansas Razorbacks. It’s a pivotal game, because the winner will move on to the Cotton Bowl and President Nixon has come to watch it. What could have been monotonous stays fresh through Pizzo’s direction, by putting the viewer right into the action on the field. As the game continues, Steinmark’s leg becomes worse, and despite being able to guess what the outcome will be, these twenty to twenty-five minutes of college football are gripping and filled with tension.
Pizzo’s film is also enhanced by Cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco. There are beautiful shots of the mountains in Denver, Colorado, where Steinmark is from and played high school ball. During summer breaks from college, Steinmark and his girlfriend Linda Wheeler (Sarah Bolger) talk about their future on a blanket in a field of vibrant orange and purple wildflowers. The imposing Longhorns stadium is also shown via sweeping fast-moving overhead shots, which help to showcase how everything is better and bigger in Texas. The football games are filmed with enough gritty realness that one feels like they are on the field with the players, but with just the right amount of over-saturated whiteness to evoke the nostalgic feeling of 1969.
My All American uses a movie trick that I find to be overused and outdated. It starts in the present day, with a reporter interviewing an older Coach Royal, asking him who were his favorite All American players that he coached. It then goes back in time to tell Steinmark’s story and ultimately concludes with Coach Royal again in the present day. This exposition tool is unnecessary. The story could have been told only in the past, and any information could have been summarized at the end.
The film’s score is also overly melodramatic. It doesn’t allow the viewer any chance to think for themselves, instead cue-ing them incessantly with music that sounds like the type one would hear at a funeral.
Despite an engaging film that has a plot, there are some inconsistencies and issues that when added together become glaring . Steinmark’s parents both look too young. In fact, in scenes with his mother it almost looks like they are the same age and could be dating. In the same regard, Steinmark and his best friend Tom Campbell (Richard Kohnke) look too old to be high school students or even college football players. They look like they are in their early thirties.
Steinmark’s girlfriend, Linda, does look young enough, but her character seems to molt too often depending on what part of the film she’s in. In the beginning, she’s an out of towner who wears black Lois Lane type glasses and hates sports. In the next scene, she’s lost her glasses and is no longer nerdy. When Steinmark asks her out on a date, she appears on the date in the same clothes she was wearing earlier in the afternoon. It is unbelievable that, in the mid-1960’s, a woman would not be dressed up in a different outfit, especially for a date with the most popular boy in high school. There are also issues with the time and the date, which leads me to believe someone forgot to do a script continuity check. Lastly, for a woman who hates sports to transform into the doting footballer’s girlfriend, become a cheerleader, and then follow him to college, is a major character contradiction. The real issue is that Linda is not a drawn out character, and is simply window dressing.
Linda and Steinmark often made me wince. In the beginning of the film, it seemed like the actors playing these characters were submitting clips for a reel of Bad Acting 101. As the film continued, they seemed to grow into their roles and become more comfortable. However, when contrasted with Aaron Eckhart’s Coach Royal the differences were blatantly obvious. Maybe Wittrock and Bolger were given the cheesiest lines of dialogue and Eckhart escaped from having to utter any corny words. But what is overall a positive, Eckhart’s strong performance, ends up seeming off. It was as if Aaron Eckhart was acting in an Oscar-winning film, but didn’t realize he was really in a Disney film with a bunch of amateurs. The fault here isn’t with Eckhart, but with the direction and writing by Pizzo.
My All American is a saccharine movie, with an everyday hero that defies many odds and almost accomplishes his dreams. It’s a familiar story with a lot of heart that reminds viewers about courage and determination.
Stay for the credits to see real-life photos of Freddie Steinmark, Coach Royal, and the entire 1969 Texas Longhorns football team.