There are three specific events at which a manly man is allowed to cry: the death of his mother, the birth of his daughter and a sports movie. That’s where we get go-for-the-jugular real life tear-jerkers like "Brian’s Song" (about Chicago Bears football player Brian Piccolo, who died of cancer at age 26), "Friday Night Lights" (about a Texas high school gridiron champion whose knee injury ended his career) and "My All-American."
Angelo Pizzo, screenwriter of "Rudy" and "Hoosiers," provided both script and direction for this biography of University of Texas’ beloved player Freddie Steinmark. Men, bring your tissues. Like Pizzo’s earlier sports films, it follows an undersized, underestimated underdog through serious challenges toward a life-affirming climax. It is simple, heartfelt and moving.
Set in the 1960s and ’70s, "My All-American" has the quaint appeal of a well-designed Lava Lamp. It’s old fashioned but still rather cool. Right from his Colorado high school days Freddie, played with winning charisma by Finn Wittrock, is Mr. Hustle. Though he is fairly short and slim, he’s convinced that he is on the way to an NFL career. His father, who was heading toward pro baseball before an injury sidelined him, trains him like a strict Olympic coach. Freddie pushes as hard as he can every moment. He humbly wants to do his personal best.
Freddie moves on to college thanks to a football scholarship, drawing his sweetly smitten high school sweetheart Linda Wheeler with him. (Irish actress Sarah Bolger brings a pixyish charm to the part.) Texas football coach Darrell Royal (Aaron Eckhart with a Texas twang) is impressed by his talent, grit and always upbeat attitude.
Passing the pigskin between the Freddie-Linda romance, the coach-player mentorship and nicely staged football games, the film shows Freddie helping to lead the comeback 1969 Longhorn team to the college football national championship. The film moves along hungering for illuminating drama and emotional tumult until well into the second hour, where terrible things happen to Freddie with potentially grave consequences.
Pizzo’s modest film is uplifting, but it is far from 1942’s "The Pride of the Yankees"; who doesn’t remember Gary Cooper delivering Lou Gehrig’s historic farewell address at Yankee Stadium? "My All-American" is good but not Big 12 good.
Review by Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune