Starring: James Van Der Beek, Jon Voight, Paul Walker, Amy Smart, Ali Larter, Scott Caan, Ron Lester, Eliel Swinton
Directed By: Brian Robbins
A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, MTV attempted to make movies. One of those movies was actually really good. It even kinda lines up with the theme of Concussion, so it feels timely watching it again now. I’ve seen Varsity Blues probably 4 or 5 times now. It’s one of my favorite films from my high school years. We had a ton of “teen comedies” that kids today don’t seem to have. We had Varsity Blues, She’s All That, Never Been Kissed, Whatever It Takes, and a slew of teen horror films like Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and The Faculty. Teens in the 80’s and 90’s had so many more films to watch than the 00’s and 10’s.
There are a few cheesy moments in Varsity Blues that I can see now, as an adult. It’s not a perfect film. Perhaps James Van Der Beek and the cast walk a thin line between overacting and just right. But, Jon Voight is pretty great as Coach Bud Kilmer. It’s the kind of truly unhinged villain that Voight loves to play. Kilmer’s crazy, and Voight can definitely play crazy. This film was basically the starting point for a lot of talent, a bunch who are still around today. It was arguably the film that helped launch Smart, Larter, Caan, and Walker. Van Der Beek had Dawsons Creek, and was already a known star.
Friday Night Lights came later, and got a lot of credit, but it basically recycled the same core catalyst that Varsity Blues used. Star quarterback, best in state, injured. Now what? In some ways, it’s more effective here, because Walker’s Lance Harbor is basically injured because the coach doesn’t give a damn. Lance is the whole team (at first). The starting QB. The Team Captain. In Friday Night Lights (the film), it’s still the star player (Boobie), but he doesn’t hold the team together. He isn’t beloved by everyone in the community. Varsity Blues attempts to show a world in which these kids are interchangeable pawns on a chess board. Parents, offering up their children to slaughter, are happy seeing their kids on the field even if it means they have no future. They live for these moments, and everything else after is based around having played football. Friday Night Lights is a bit more social conscious, but paints a similar picture about an economically poor town really having only one good thing going. High School Football.
I still think Varsity Blues is a good film. I enjoy watching it, whenever I’m feeling nostalgic. There’s some good writing in there. The speech given by Van Der Beek at the end is exactly what needed to be said. Voight does a good job acting, and the kids are mostly on the good side, only occasionally overacting. It’s been over 15 years since Varsity Blues hit theatres, and for the most part, it holds up still today. Not bad for a teen film, which usually feel instantly dated.
FINAL GRADE: B+