BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Films in the sports genre have an advantage in that there is a natural drama created by the struggles of an individual or a team to find success. That tension is enough to generally hold the attention of the audience.
The downside is that the options of how that struggle will end are limited. There is either success or failure. No one would tolerate a film where the sports action ended without some type of conclusion.
What filmmakers have to do is make the journey to that predictable ending interesting enough to distract the audience from guessing where the sports element will go. That is what screenwriters Kristinn Thordarson and Christopher D. Wright have done with the sports/family drama “High Expectations.”
Jack Davis (Taylor Gray) comes from a much-heralded soccer family. His father is the legendary Coach Davis (Kelsey Grammer) while his brother (Adam Aalderks) is an all-star goalie.
Jack never got his opportunity to excel in the professional soccer world as he was cut from his father’s team. Coupled with the loss of his mother, Jack has slipped into a comfortable life of merely existing. His melancholy ways even soured his relationship with his ex-girlfriend Sophia (Ally Brooke).
Jack is inspired by Sophia’s tough love to face his fears and doubts and try out for a professional soccer team that could lead him to a direct showdown with his father and overbearing brother. There is a mountain of doubt that must be climbed for this to happen.
Directors Jonathan Southard and Christopher D. Wright create a solid backdrop for the family drama to unfold. The soccer sequences are staged with authenticity including casting Olympic gold medalist and soccer star Brianna Scurry as the coach of the team that gives Jack his second chance.
The directors find just the right amount of soccer to well establish the sports elements of the movie but do not weigh the production down with too much time on the field. One big mistake a lot of sports movies make is when the director becomes so enamored with the sport that all else suffers.
“High Expectations” remains tightly focused on family and friend issues. At the heart is the very volatile father-son paradigm. Since the beginning of time, the often abrasive relationship between a father and a son has created emotional conflicts.
In the case of “High Expectations,” that conflict is doubled. There are the raw emotions Jack must face knowing his father didn’t have enough faith in him to give him the opportunity to show what he could do on a professional level. The dismissal by a coach can be devastating and that is multiplied when it is a family member who has killed a dream.
Then there is the conflict for Jack that comes out of the loss of his mother. The scenes are limited showing his relationship with his mother but it is obvious their bond was tighter than the one that he had with his father. The combination of those two major elements creates a massive fissure between father and son.
That breach works because of Gray and Grammer. Even when Jack is neck-deep in his own self-pity, Gray makes the character come across as very likable. He is a lovable loser that is worthy of an audience’s support.
Grammer has a knack for playing characters who can be pompous at one moment and vulnerable the next moment. His performance as the legendary coach rings with plenty of natural dislike and sympathy for the character.
The weak link is the romantic element. Ally Brooke – formerly of the group Fifth Harmony – gives the film a way of inserting the title tune into the movie. But, there just never seems to be any natural romantic chemistry between her and Gray.
Fortunately, the romance is the third element of this story. The father-son portion is very strong and enough to give the movie a very solid foundation. All of the sports moments give the film a solid structure. The romance would have been the topper but it isn’t strong enough.
“High Expectations” ends up being a generally entertaining tale that scores enough of its goals to be successful.
If you want to see “High Expectations,” the viewing window is very tight. The film will only be playing at the Regal Edwards Bakersfield theatre, 9000 Ming Ave., at 7 p.m. on April 7. It is part of a Fathom Events showing limited to 850 cinemas nationwide.
Movie review: 2 1/2 stars
Cast: Kelsey Grammer, Taylor Gray, Ally Brooke, Brianna Scurry.
Director: Jonathan Southard, Christopher D. Wright
Running time: 96 minutes.