In honor of the November 7 release of Paste Movies Editor Michael Dunaway’s documentary 21 Years: Richard Linklater (in which Paste is the media partner), we’re going through the indie master’s entire oeuvre in order, film by amazing film.
When Richard Linklater’s Bad News Bears was released in 2004, many critics called it unnecessary. To these critics, I offer this calm, considered response: “Shut up.” Are any movies besides the Scream films really necessary? And whatever Bad News Bears lacks in relevance, it more than makes up for in fun. After all, what’s not to love about a movie where a bunch of kids hurl obscenities at each other and constantly get hurt?
Playing a slightly less surly version of his character in Bad Santa, Billy Bob Thornton drinks and curses his way through Bad News Bears, and it is obvious that he is having a good time. Matching Thornton beat for beat are the kids in the movie, who play an eclectic bunch of losers and dimwits and psychopaths. They spray each other with poison, constantly get in fights, and swear up a storm … all the while being incredibly lovable and adorable! Greg Kinnear even shows up as the villain of the film, a slimy rival coach who will do anything to take down the Bears.
Most good sports movies end on a triumphant, victorious note. Not this one. In Bad News Bears, the Bears lose the final game, but they don’t care. When the winning team extends an olive branch, they basically tell them to f**k off and start spraying them with non-alcoholic beer. SWOON. What is not to love about this movie? The bad sportsmanship of the Bears is one of the major reasons why the movie works so well. Everyone is an asshole, yet you find yourself rooting for these particular assholes to succeed. When they don’t, they act like even bigger assholes, and somehow the payoff is actually really rewarding.
Besides Thornton, there’s also Oscar-winning actress Marcia Gay Harden. In one of the most important roles of her career, she plays an uptight mom who ends up becoming less uptight when she sleeps with Billy Bob’s character. It is fun to see Harden in a comedic role, as she spends far too much time in movies being either very serious (Mystic River) or very crazy (The Mist). Even better, the movie never makes you think that Harden and Thornton have any actual romantic chemistry. These are just two people who want to have sex with each other, no strings attached, and their relationship fits perfectly with the offensive, delightfully foul nature of the film.
If it seems like I’ve talking about everything but the film’s director, well, I am, but it’s not because I want to brush over Linklater’s contribution. Nor should my tone suggest dismissal. In truth, Bad News Bears is a feather in the cap of Linklater—yet more evidence that, well, this guy’s good. What other indie filmmaker could tackle the remaking of a beloved film no one particularly wanted to see remade and do so with such obvious care for the source material? Linklater didn’t get sucked down that path we’ve seen so many directors go of trying to better the original. He seemed to understand that just capturing the elusive spirit of the first film was a worthy—and challenging—goal. As a result, he showed again his willingness to put ego aside, and that remakes can be done well if they are put into the right hands.
And okay, ultimately, Bad News Bears was probably not the most necessary film ever made. One could argue Linklater had already made his version of the film with the preceeding year’s School of Rock. Nonetheless, we can look back at this particular remake and mark it as about the time we realized pretty much anything in the hands of Richard Linklater is in pretty good hands.
21 Years: Richard Linklater is produced by Tara Wood, Michael Dunaway and Melanie Miller, directed by Dunaway with co-director Tara Wood, and will be released theatrically and on demand through Gravitas Ventures. You can see the trailer and pre-order the film here, and get more info (including links to preview clips) here.
Andy Herren: Andy Herren is an adjunct professor and occasional reality show winner. When he’s not lying to people on national television, he contributes to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter. Olive Penderghast is his soulmate.