As always, Spoiler Alert.
I don’t like sports. Never have. Don’t like watching them. Don’t like playing them. Don’t understand the posturing, the rivalries, or the drive to win. Really don’t understand the fans who get crazy invested in whether or not their team wins.
I am an absolute sucker for an underdog sports movie. I love them. Love the stories. Love the game sequences. Love the stirring speeches, the training montages, and the slow claps.
And in my opinion, there’s no better movie in the genre than Cool Runnings.
The only reason I watched Cool Runnings in the first place was that I remember the events on which it is based. (Ever so loosely based, it turns out, as is the case with many underdog sports movies.) About the Jamaican bobsled team that competed in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, like many Canadians that year, even sports averse me got caught up in their story.
I hated the Olympics, partly because of my general attitude towards sports (see above). But primarily it was because we only had two television channels when I was growing up, and since one of them, CBC, carried every minute of the games, it effectively narrowed my TV watching options down to one. Shows I liked to watch would be pre-empted, or their beginnings would be cut off when games coverage inevitably ran overtime, and even when they aired without interruption, the commercials were all about the bloody Olympics.
But in 1988, even I found some entertainment in the games. I was as tickled by the idea of a Jamaican bobsled team as everyone else. Not that I watched their runs. It was notoriously hard in those days to figure out when a specific sport would be on without watching the broadcast, waiting for the station to announce upcoming air times, and doing some Time Zone Math. But I did keep an ear out during the radio news reports to hear how they’d done.
How they did was not so great, at least from a sporting achievement perspective. They were in 20-somethingth place after their first two runs, and crashed on their third, which eliminated them from the games.
But the images of them walking across the finish line after that crash? From a Firing The Imagination perspective, they stole the show.
And that’s what Cool Runnings captures so well. It is very much the story of outsiders finding their place and gaining the respect of their peers. And while it hits all the beats of the traditional underdog sports movie, it does it with humour and grace, and even occasionally subverts them – like when Irv (John Candy) delivers his inspiring speech not to his team, but to the Olympic board that’s trying to prevent them from competing.
Speaking of John Candy, while I’ve always liked him, I’ve never been much of a fan of his movies. I’m just not a dumbass slapstick kind of person. So it’s really nice to see him take on a different type role in Cool Runnings and nail it. It’s also lovely to watch the growing friendship between Yul Brenner (Malik Yoba) and Junior (Rawle D. Lewis), a great example of platonic love between men – something pop culture desperately needs to show more of.
And every time I watch it, even though I know how the story ends, my stomach is in knots during their final run, hoping that maybe this time, they won’t crash. They always do, of course. But that’s okay. Any disappointment is short lived, as the team continues to persevere and carries their bobsled across the finish line.
If real life sports were as engaging as this movie, I’d be a huge fan.
That’s gotta be worthy of a slow clap.
To see other posts in my venture to watch my movie collection in alphabetical(ish) order, click here.