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.
Despite the fact that the story is super simple and the film's style rather by-the-book, Season still manages to keep your attention and (occasionally) tug at your heartstrings. The film wins major points in its keen sensibility of place. Norway, Iowa, comes across as the most compelling character—a Midwestern mélange of Grant Wood landscapes and Marilynne Robinson's literary Gilead. Great attention to detail in set design, costumes, and dialogue make rural Iowa come alive. You'll notice HyVee grocery bags, casual references to "DQ," and discussion of what's for "supper" (the Midwesterner's term for "dinner"). But perhaps the film's best tool for grounding itself in the place of Norway is its periodic incorporation of archival footage—mostly local news coverage of Norway baseball circa 1991. This is an interesting tool that works very well, and might have even been utilized more.
The other motif that works nicely in Season is baseball itself. More than just a sport that could have been swapped with anything else to make a similar movie, baseball is the unique spiritual center of this film. Like its forbear in Iowa baseball movies, Field of Dreams (which took place in 1989; was there a baseball love potion in the Iowa corn in the eighties?), Season tries to find in baseball metaphors for life. In one particularly memorable line, a character notes that baseball "is the only game on Earth where the object is to get home." And an affection for home—the state of mind rather than the physical place (which may not always be there)—is the heart of this film.
As the final season winds down and the climax escalates, the characters have every reason to feel glum as they face the reality of an "end of an era" (and the threat of a forever changed "home"). But instead they choose to fight on, as hard as they ever did—challenged by Coach Stock's question: "How do you want to be remembered?" And given the fickle nature of history and legacies in which statistics are broken and trophies accrue dust, perhaps the students' best response is this: we want to be remembered as a team that was strong to the end, never gave up, and finished well.Discussion starters
- Why do you think sports is such a deep and important part of our lives? Are there, as this film seems to suggest, parallels between a sport like baseball and life?
- What do you think motivated the main characters in this film? Were they trying to prove something to themselves? Or to someone else?
- Compare this film to something like Friday Night Lights in which the ending is not quite so happy. Are the messages similar or different?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
The Final Season is rated PG for language, thematic elements and some teen smoking. This is a great film for families, with hardly any objectionable content and a great, uplifting message about determination and being passionate about finishing things well. There are a few profanities, and a scene or two of teenage smoking, but other than that this is a very clean film that parents and kids could enjoy together.
Photos © Copyright Yari Film Group
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