The Final Season
I had a friend whose grandparents were in a seniors Sunday school class entitled "Finishing Well." I thought this was a rather condescending (or at least, pessimistic) name for a class of elderly people—especially when I heard that the teacher of the class was a vigorous young forty-year-old! But the whole "finishing well" concept is ubiquitous in Christian teaching, and for good reason. 2 Timothy 4:7 ("I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race …") is probably the most oft-quoted passage for encouraging Christians to persevere in the face of ending or change. It's also an inspirational topic for cinematic storytelling, and The Final Season is a perfect example.
Based on a true story and directed by David Mickey Evans (The Sandlot), Season tells the remarkable tale of the Norway (Iowa) High School baseball team. Even though the school contained a mere 100 students, it managed to win 19 state championships in baseball in a 22-year span. But in 1991, the state government announced that Norway was one of several tiny rural schools that would be closed and merged with nearby larger schools—a change that would abruptly end the dynasty forever.
Norway is a town that lives and breathes high school baseball, in the endearingly personal way that Odessa, Texas loves high school football in Friday Night Lights. For these little towns, the high school, with the unspoiled innocence and vitality of sports glory, is often the center of culture. In Norway, it's not uncommon to see barn walls painted with quips like, "On the 8th Day, God created baseball." Nor is it out of the ordinary for a couple hundred townsfolk to show up for the baseball team's afternoon practice.
Thus, it is a huge blow to the town when the school board announces the upcoming closure of the school. With one year left—and one season of Norway baseball—there is little hope (or motivation) to keep the lame duck dynasty going. With the merger, officials refuse to renew the contract of legendary coach Jim Van Scoyoc (Powers Boothe), despite the community's strong protests. Instead, a new guy with lackluster credentials (he coached women's volleyball at another school) is given the job for what is sure to be a throwaway season. The new coach, Kent Stock (Sean Astin, everyone's favorite hobbit!), feels the deflated energy of the town, as well as his players, but he is not willing to give up so easily. He inspires the players to seize the moment and make the best of a bad circumstance—emphasizing the necessity of putting one's heart into things fully, and never doing anything half-way
Given the straightforward genre identity of this film (a feel-good sports movie), it should be no surprise how it turns out. But therein is my biggest complaint: the film is a bit too conventional. It unabashedly builds on stock sports movies of the past (the tagline could have been Friday Night Lights meets Field of Dreams) and follows formulas to an almost comical degree. Among the recognizable clichés: the mentor-apprentice nighttime chats on the empty baseball diamond lit only by stadium lights; a rebel player with self-destructive rage but the athletic potential to be the team's biggest star; a villain-turned-love-interest (Rachael Leigh Cook) who makes for pretty eyeline-match shots as she cheers on her man from the stands, etc. Even the French-horn-heavy score sounds very, very familiar.