Overcomer finally answers the question that all inspirational cinema needed to ask. What kind of coach is God?
That’s an oversimplification of what’s going in the film. Yet, it’s not. For those wanting to know about the film, it hits the same basic notes. Sports thing goes bad, local coach feels bad and the town loses its biggest business. As people despair and bail out on Small Town USA, it’s time for faith to enter the picture. I can already hear some people moaning.
Yet, there’s a bizarre angle to how the players in the film redeem themselves. It’s by accepting loss. When Coach Harrison has to transition from basketball to cross country, he hates it. But, he also sees the opportunity to mine star athletes to help save athletic programs. Why? Well, it’s the only way some of these kids are going to college.
Scholarships abound, as well as older white guys teaching minority student athletes about living a faith-based life in a public school setting. Being that this is a faith-based movie, we’re long due for a sudden twist to create a moment of doubt. When it comes to these movies, you have one of a few options. Someone dies, someone loses their marriage/relationship, someone loses a kid or someone becomes sick/impaired. Every single modern faith-based movie has an iteration of this.
There is something in victimhood that the Right Wing has sunken their teeth into it. They seem to be repulsed and entertained by it at the same time. Throughout the first half of Overcomer, the film doesn’t want to buy into the idea that the town or athletes are victims. Yet, the film also plays up all of the maladies that strike Coach Harrison and how he braves his way through being victimized. I needed a neck brace from that sweet whiplash.
The film’s tagline is “What Do You Allow to Define You?”. Upon finishing the film earlier tonight, I was struck odd by that. Overcome never goes out of its way to define anything. You’re presented a series of events, but anytime things get too rough…there’s a reset. Whether it’s the cross country club getting good or Coach Harrison being knocked for a loop, the entire film exists on a well-oiled rail.
What’s weird about having an identity after overcoming traumatic events is that personal choice reveals a lot about human nature. The student athletes learn to adapt to their world failing around them. They shift focus and new athletes discover ways to better escape their collapsing communities. Meanwhile, you have a high school coach get humbled, lifted up and then smacked down again.
Yet, he’s happy in his own way. None of this is super revolutionary. However, Overcomer handles things in a way that just makes me annoyed. Back in the 00s, horror fans had to suffer through the torture porn subgenre. It was an effort to make gore filled films that just increased the gruesome nature of events without adding anything to the narrative.
Overcomer falls into the Faith-based equivalent of this trap. What starts off strong quickly hits those same notes that befall similar films. It’s not enough to make a sports movie, you have to pound repeated lessons home. The choice to not stick with one strong angle, but hammer smaller repeated ones irks me.
It’s a creative choice, but one that can become a nuisance in certain genres. Am I asking for more heavy dialogue scenes in faith-based films? Not directly, but it would be a start. By that, I mean honest dialogues about the themes they want to explore. Not just NPC character talk until ol’ J.C. has to drop another lesson on the lead characters.
Not everyone needs or is Jonah, Daniel or Job. Sometimes, the faith based cinematic world would do well just to drop a single theme into the real world. Call and answers sermons fare better on Sunday. Reflect the spiritual world in the everyday. It won’t be flashy, but it will speak better to the core audience and those you want to reach.
So, what kind of coach is God? Is he loud and mouthy like Rex Ryan? No. God wears a hoodie and silently judges us all, while letting us find out way through a divine experience. It’s not until the fourth quarter that we get an idea of the overall game-plan. Analogies!