On the surface, Champions is exactly what you expect from an underdog sports story. A coach, down on his luck, inherits a team of misfits, and together they learn from each other and grow into better versions of themselves on their way to becoming “Champions.” While the formula is something we have seen before, what sets Champions apart from its counterparts is the respect and tenderness it pays to our loveable underdogs, a team of special needs individuals.
While basketball is the sport that brings the team together, it is through Woody Harrelson’s character, Coach Marcus, that we learn how each of his players is not only capable of learning how to play basketball as a team but also how they are each capable in their relatively normal everyday lives. Marcus’ perception of his team changes from believing it impossible to coach his team to understanding each player and becoming invested in the full lives they lead outside of the court. In turn, his team learns that their coach sticks up for them and begins to trust him. It’s a heartwarming journey that brought a smile to my face throughout.
Alongside Woody Harrelson, Kaitlin Olson is immediately likable as Alex, providing not only one part comedic relief and paramour but also a loving family member with her own struggles of personal responsibility towards her special needs family member. It’s a loving and enjoyable departure from the Always Sunny In Philadelphia character that most people will know Olsen from. So much so that, at moments, I questioned if I was sure she was the same actor.
Coupled with a strong and loveable bunch of supporting characters throughout the film, Champions feels less like an improbable sports story against all odds and more like a story that could actually be playing out in your local neighborhood. It is an enjoyable film for all.
3.5 out of 5 stars