The Longshots is an exceedingly simple movie that nonetheless manages to tug the heartstrings thanks to warm performances across the board. You’ve seen every little bit of the story before, but it’s as heartfelt as the best football movies like Rudy and Remember the Titans.
Ice Cube and Keke Palmer (of Akeelah and the Bee) star as uncle and niece, both living in the rundown town of Minden, Illinois. He’s Curtis, a former high school football star, unemployed since the plant closed down years ago and basically destroyed the town’s economy. She’s Jasmine, a pre-teen who doesn’t fit in at school and still misses her dad, who left her and her mom a few years ago.
Her mom picks up evening shifts at the local diner and asks Curtis to give her some company. At first they have nothing to say to each other, but then Curtis realizes Jasmine has a great throwing arm and tries to get her to join the football team. At first she doesn’t want to, but he convinces her to try out. At first the coach doesn’t want her, but after seeing her in action he lets her join. At first the kids don’t like playing with a girl, but after realizing she’s pretty cool, they accept her. And so on, and so on, and so on — the whole movie is a very familiar series of complication-resolution, complication-resolution, complication-resolution.
That I expected. What I didn’t expect was that despite the structure, the movie feels strangely genuine. The cinematography by Conrad W. Hall (son of Oscar-winning cinematographer Conrad L. Hall) has a well-worn, grungy quality that makes the town of Minden feel like a real place, populated by real people who have little money but big hearts. And to its credit, the screenplay acknowledges this as well, populating the town with working-class folks like the Reverend (Garrett Morris), the guys who spend their day scratching off lotto tickets on the benches near the football field, and the down-on-his-luck Coach Fisher (Matt Craven). Let’s hope nothing happens to him, or else Curtis might have to step in and coach the team while also achieving personal redemption!
But there I go again. The Longshots is so genuinely sweet, making fun of it makes me feel like a horrible person. It’s akin to shouting “I don’t believe in fairies” at Tinkerbell.
Part of the credit also goes to Palmer, who, like in Akeelah and the Bee, proves herself to be a very good actress, consistent and thoughtful. There are no false moments with her, no drastic character shifts: even after she’s a football star taking her team to the big game, she’s still the shy girl she was in the beginning, just now a little more confident. And the late-in-the-game
subplot involving her father played out terrifically, with the best payoff in the movie.
The theater I saw The Longshots in was packed with young girls — maybe five to twelve years old — and their parents. They cheered throughout the movie (their parents, too) and left the theater all smiling from ear to ear. It’s rare to see such a well-made movie that empowers young girls the way this one does. So who the heck am I to complain about the plot being formulaic?
Movie Grade: B+
Based on a true story, a poor Illinois town comes together behind the local Pop Warner football team and their unlikely quarterback, Jasmine Plummer (Keke Palmer), the first female in Pop Warner’s history. Under the tutelage of her uncle Curtis (Ice Cube), a former high school football star, Jasmine leads her team, the Minden Browns to the Pop Warner Super Bowl and inspires the town of Minden, Illinois to reclaim some of its former glory.