When I saw the trailer for Champions, I appreciated that the filmmakers were attempting to make a film spotlighting diversity in a population that rarely gets attention. I love stories that explore characters and show how much we have in common with each other. I also have seen Woody Harrelson in other films and have enjoyed his performances. After watching, I found the secondary characters steal the show from Woody Harrelson, it is heartwarming, and while the story is a typical redemption arc, there are a few surprises and a lot of humor.

Champions is a comedy sports film directed by Bobby Farrelly in his solo directorial debut and written by Mark Rizzo. In the movie, a temperamental minor league basketball coach, Marcus (Woody Harrelson), finds himself in legal trouble and is fired by his head coach Phil (Ernie Hudson). In order to avoid going to jail, he has the opportunity to coach a team of players with intellectual disabilities. Along the way, Marcus bonds with the team, including Johnny (Kevin Iannucci), Darius (Joshua Felder), Consentino (Madison Tevlin), Benny (James Day Keith), Cody (Ashton Gunning), Craig (Matthew Von Der Ahe), Blair (Tom Sinclair), Arthur (Alex Hintz), Marlon (Casey Metcalfe) and Showtime (Bradley Edens). With the help of Johnny’s sister, Alex (Kaitlin Olsen), Julio (Cheech Marin), the manager of the center, and his friend, assistant coach Sonny (Matt Cook), the team and Marcus find themselves competing for a spot in the Special Olympics.

(L to R) Casey Metcalfe as Marlon, James Day Keith as Benny, Woody Harrelson as Marcus, Ashton Gunning as Cody, and Tom Sinclair as Blair in director Bobby Farrelly’s CHAMPIONS, a Focus Features release. Credit : Courtesy of Focus Features

One of the elements I appreciated the most was the comedic moments, with the funniest scenes being by The Friends, the team of basketball players. The actors have wonderful timing, they’re colorful, and they prove that intellectually disabled individuals are more than capable of anything they want to do. Each actor brought humor and joy to the scenes they were in, and the funniest moments were with the character of Johnny and Consentino. I also found Alex funny, especially in her most sarcastic comments. The setup for Woody Harrelson’s character is funny as well, the situation he finds himself in.

The story is heartwarming. That is entirely deliberate since it is a story of redemption for Marcus. What is unexpected are the ways in which he interacts with the team, The Friends. Without giving anything away, there are moments in which things don’t go right or as planned for the characters, and yet, they still carry on. The ending does not go quite the way I thought it would either, a pleasant surprise since most films of this ilk are fairly predictable. The surprises and the warmth of the team, and their colorfulness, mean that they steal most scenes that they’re in and are the heart of the movie.

(L to R) Alex Hintz as Arthur, Casey Metcalfe as Marlon, Matthew von der Ahe as Craig, Ashton Gunning as Cody, Tom Sinclair as Blair, Joshua Felder as Darius, James Day Keith as Benny, Madison Tevlin as Cosentino, Kevin Iannucci as Johnathan, and Bradley Edens as Showtime in director Bobby Farrelly’s CHAMPIONS, a Focus Features release. Credit : Courtesy of Focus Features

While Woody Harrelson is meant to be the main protagonist, and he does give a credible performance, it’s the secondary characters around him that steal the show. Woody has a solid dynamic with Matt Cook, who plays Sonny, his friend. He also has fantastic chemistry with Kevin Iannucci, who plays Johnny and honestly with the entire cast of the team. Kaitlin Olsen is wonderful and warm around Kevin Iannucci. Their scenes shine. Cheech Marin, Ernie Hudson, and Matt Cook give some fantastic performances, believable and funny. But it is the team that just gives the most beautiful, heartwarming, and funny performances. Each of the young individuals, Kevin Iannucci as Johnny, Joshua Felder as Darius, Madison Tevlin as Consentino, James Day Keith as Benny, Ashton Gunning as Cody, Matthew Von Der Ahe as Craig, Tom Sinclair as Blair, Alex Hintz as Arthur, Casey Metcalfe as Marlon and Bradley Edens as Showtime, each of them brings a unique character to life with their performances and creates wonderful characters that you root for and love.

(L to R) Kevin Iannucci as Johnathan, Kaitlin Olson as Alex, James Day Keith as Benny, and Woody Harrelson as Marcus in director Bobby Farrelly’s CHAMPIONS, a Focus Features release. Credit : Shauna Townley/Focus Features

One of the issues with the film is that it is predictable. While there are some surprises, most of the redemption arc for Marcus follows exactly as I expect. He bonds with the team, and that changes him. What he does after that is the surprise. I also didn’t find the chemistry between him and Kaitlin Olsen particularly believable or dynamic. Their lack of chemistry made the second half of the film drag a bit, and their performances felt a bit phoned in, especially when it centers on their romance. There is also a whole lot happening in the film, and it could have been pared down on ideas. Despite that, it is still infused with warmth, has a ton of heart, and is super funny.

If you like sports comedies or films about teams that are full of colorful characters, I do recommend this movie. It does a fantastic job of showing that those with intellectual disabilities are capable of so much more than people realize, and that focus in the movie is truly well done. It highlights that these individuals are people with the same needs and abilities as the others around them. It challenges those who have preconceived notions of what those with these disabilities are like, and I love that diversity. If you love films with diverse and fun characters, comedy with sarcasm, and wonderful secondary actors that steal the show, this movie is for you. It is a heartwarming win.

Rating: 3.5 backward shots out of 5.

Official Website: Champions | Official Website | March 10 2023
Facebook: @ChampionsTheFIlm
Twitter: @ChampionsMovie
Instagram: @championsthefilm
Hashtag: #Champions



Genre: Comedy/Drama/Sport

Woody Harrelson stars in the hilarious and heartwarming story of a former minor-league basketball coach who, after a series of missteps, is ordered by the court to manage a team of Disabled players. He soon realizes that despite his doubts, together, this team can go further than they ever imagined.
CHAMPIONS opens exclusively in theaters nationwide on March 10, 2023.

ONE-LINER: Every dream team starts somewhere.

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