Spain sends the sports comedy WE ARE CHAMPIONS is Oscar race 2018 – and with it a film about disabled people that was actually made with them. We reveal more about this and why we understand this decision but cannot share it in our review.
The Plot Summary
Something isn’t going well for Marco (Javier Gutiérrez) at the moment. As an assistant coach of a Spanish basketball team, only the coach receives the praise and recognition and things couldn’t be worse in his private life either: his marriage is about to end. Frustrated with his life and the fact that only the others are winners, there is a scandal on the playing field. He insults the team, gets kicked off the field, gets drunk and crashes his car, which promptly lands him in court. But the verdict is not at all to his liking. In his free time, he is supposed to train a very special basketball team on a charitable basis: a team consisting of people with intellectual disabilities. And what he experiences with them shakes up his worldview…
Movie explanation of the ending
The casting policy of many international blockbusters has been increasingly criticized in recent years, partly due to perceived hysteria, but to a much greater degree justifiably so. When an Asian character in a template suddenly becomes a Western one (example: Scarlett Johansson in “Ghost in the Shell”), this often goes too far for many fans of the template. It was once again Marvel star Johannson who came under fire when she was cast in the role of a transsexual man in Rupert Sanders’ project “Rub & Tug”. After a bitter headwind, she finally resigned; A transsexual character should also be embodied by a real transsexual. But it is not only in the USA that such controversial occupation coups are increasingly causing waves of outrage. When the French comedy “My Pretty Little Friend” about a man of short stature was released two years ago, many were surprised that he was played by the megastar Jean Dujardin, who had been artificially reduced in size on the computer, and not by a real man of short stature. “We are Champions”, the Spanish entry for the upcoming Oscars, does not have to fear any criticism from this quarter. In the comedy by Javier Fesser (“Camino”) Real mentally and physically disabled people play mentally and physically disabled characters. This gives the sports comedy an enormous bonus of sympathy and originality, but that doesn’t make it a good, even Oscar-worthy film and so the directorial statement stands in stark contrast to the final quality.
Coach Marco (Javier Gutiérrez) and player Juanma (José de Luna).
Although much of “We are Champions” arises from pure cliché, the film has become an absolute smash hit in Spain (it is currently ranked third among the most successful behind “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”) Films of 2018) are on the right track when it comes to removing the viewer’s fears of contact with the main characters, which are not necessarily meant to be negative. The screenwriting duo of Javier Fesser and David Marqués (“En fuera de juego”) doesn’t approach things squeamishly at all. Your disabled people are exactly as real life has shaped them. “We are Champions” does not tolerate any kind of mainstream softening. And so the makers also risk that the film could lose its audience in some extravagant moments. For example, in a scene in which one of the characters loudly expresses her barely contained joy about the upcoming competition with the passengers on a bus. You suddenly catch yourself thinking about being annoyed. And that’s completely okay! “We are champions” does not demand pity, in short: even a severely disabled person can be an asshole, an idiot, or even just plain annoying at times. The fact that those responsible do not gloss over this unvarnished truth in favor of a feel-good experience suitable for the masses is a remarkable plus point that the film repeatedly exploits, thereby further increasing the level of authenticity.
The main character, the vain coach Marco, takes you by the hand, whose best days are over, but who doesn’t want to admit it. In order to avoid a higher punishment, he is forced to train with the disabled team after an incident. And his skepticism towards the main characters is always understandable in all their sometimes pronounced and painful facets, which are mixed with prejudices. The reason why this all works so well is because the creators never make fun of the characters; Instead, “We Are Champions” earns its status as a comedy through a lot of comedy that arises from the harmless situation – and because the person making a fool of himself is usually the only one in the room who is not disabled. Also the strong game of Javier Gutiérrez (“Assassin’s Creed”), which helps the film overcome many script-related platitudes, as well as the detached interaction of the non-actors, give the film an absolutely authentic feeling. But all of this is always destroyed when the authors place scenes in “We are Champions” that, despite all the interchangeability, pull the symbolic legs away from the story that was so conscientiously told and thereby make the comedy far more clichéd than it actually is.
Marco training with Fabián (Julio Fernández) and Manuel (Stefan López).
Symptomatic of this is a scene in which Juanma (José de Luna), who suffers from a severe phobia of water, is lured into the communal shower by his coach and the rest of the team with the help of a little fib and is then freed from his fear in a quick manner. The act itself is not only highly questionable from a moral point of view, but above all Javier Fesser dramatizes this scene with the dramaturgy of a gag, at the end of which there is something like a punch line. Even though the character benefits from this act and showers for the first time in what feels like an eternity, the production here suddenly sides with the bystanders who point the finger at a man in the middle; and that suddenly feels really strange. There are always some of these kinds of scenes in a modified form. They cause (admittedly guaranteed unintentional) breaks within the narrative and thereby deprive the overall experience of the lightheartedness and openness that could otherwise characterize the film throughout. And as soon as you are made aware of these weak points, you suddenly realize that, in terms of narrative, “We are Champions” is ultimately just one sports film among many, at the end of which the underdogs have to duel against the champions. At least here the story finds a coherent, quite surprising conclusion.
Conclusion: The surprise hit from Spain is coming to United Kingdom! There are many indications that the Oscar candidate could make a really fine statement about the consideration of disabled people in mainstream films. In terms of staging, he does the same. But the half-baked script keeps pulling the symbolic legs away from the sweet story with dubious individual scenes.
“We are Champions” can be seen in USA cinemas from September 20th.