Varsity Blues (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Brian Robbins|
|Produced by||Brian Robbins
|Written by||W. Peter Iliff|
|Starring||James Van Der Beek
|Music by||Mark Isham|
|Editing by||Ned Bastille|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Release dates||January 15, 1999|
|Running time||106 minutes|
Varsity Blues is a 1999 American coming-of-age sports drama film directed by Brian Robbins that follows a small-town high school football team and their overbearing coach through a tumultuous season. The players must deal with the pressures of adolescence and their football obsessed community while having their hard coach on their back constantly. In the small (fictional) town of West Canaan, Texas, football is a way of life, and losing is not an option.
Varsity Blues drew a domestic box office gross of $52 million against its estimated $16 million budget despite mixed critical reviews.
Jonathan "Mox" Moxon (James Van Der Beek) is an intelligent and academically gifted backup quarterback for the West Canaan High School football team. Despite his relative popularity at school, easy friendships with other players, and smart and sassy girlfriend Jules Harbor (Amy Smart), Mox is dissatisfied with his life. He wants to leave Texas to go to school at Brown University. He disdains his football-obsessed father (Thomas F. Duffy) and dreads playing it under legendary coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), a verbally abusive, controlling authority who believes in winning "at all costs". He has a strong track record as coach, remarking in a speech that "in my thirty years of coaching football at West Canaan, I have brought two state titles, and 22 district championships!" His philosophy finally takes its toll on Coyotes' quarterback, Lance Harbor (Paul Walker), Mox's best friend and Jules' brother. Lance is manipulated into taking anesthetic shots into an injured knee that finally succumbs to failure and results in even greater injury during gameplay. He is rushed to the hospital, where doctors are appalled at the massive amount of scar tissue found under his knee.
Mox, who has accompanied Lance to the hospital, is shocked when Kilmer feigns ignorance to Lance's doctors about Lance's knee problems, when in fact Kilmer ordered the trainer to inject the shots. In need of a new quarterback, Kilmer reluctantly names Mox to replace Lance as captain and starting quarterback. The move brings unexpected dividends for Mox, one of them being Darcy Sears (Ali Larter), Lance's beautiful blonde cheerleader girlfriend, who is interested in marrying a football player in order to escape small-town life. She even goes so far as to attempt to seduce Mox, sporting a "bikini" made of whipped cream over her otherwise naked body, but he rebuffs her as gently as he can.
Disgusted with Kilmer and not feeling a strong need to win, Mox starts calling his own plays on the field without Kilmer's approval. He also chides his father, screaming at him, "I don't want your life!" The elder Moxon had been a football player at West Caanan, and although Kilmer dismissed him for lacking talent and courage, Moxon still respected and obeyed Kilmer. When Kilmer becomes aware that Mox has won a full scholarship to Brown, Kilmer threatens Mox that if he continues to disobey and disrespect him, the coach will alter Mox's transcripts in order to reverse the decision on his scholarship.
Kilmer's lack of concern for players continues, resulting in a dramatic collapse of Billy Bob (Ron Lester). When Wendell Brown, another friend of Mox's, is injured on the field, Kilmer pressures Brown to take a shot of cortisone to deaden the pain from his injury, allowing him to continue even in the face of a permanent injury. Desperate to be recruited by a good college, Wendell grants his consent. At this moment, Mox tells Kilmer he'll quit the team if the needle enters Wendell's knee. Undaunted, he orders Charlie Tweeder (Scott Caan), a friend of both Mox and Wendell, to replace Mox, but Tweeder refuses. Mox tells Kilmer that the only way they will return to the field is without Kilmer. Realizing that he will be forced to forfeit the game, Kilmer loses control and attacks Mox. The other players intercede and then refuse to take to the field. Knowing his loss of control has cost him his credibility, Kilmer tries in vain to rally support and spark the team's spirit into trusting him, but none of the players follow him out of the locker room. He continues down the hall, and seeing no one following him, turns the other direction and into his office. The team goes on to win the game without his guidance.
In a voice-over epilogue, Mox recounts several characters' aftermaths, including the fact that Kilmer left town and never coached again and that Lance became a successful coach.
- James Van Der Beek as Jonathon "Mox" Moxon, an intelligent and academically gifted, yet rebellious backup quarterback. Mox is content to be a career back up, much to the chagrin of his father Sam. His main goal is to escape his football-obsessed hometown and study at Brown University. Mox's best friend is All-Texas quarterback Lance Harbor and Lance's younger sister Jules is his girlfriend. Mox is one of, perhaps even the only, player to stand up to Kilmer and has no reservations about it, especially in defending Lance, Wendell, and Billy Bob. He ends up taking his scholarship and graduates from Brown.
- Jon Voight as Coach Bud Kilmer, the Coyotes 30-year head coach. Kilmer has had immense success on the field, but is a verbally abusive control freak that is the de facto ruler of both the school and the town because he wins. Kilmer finally meets his match when Mox leads a halftime mutiny and he attacks Mox. He realizes he has lost and his credibility is gone. He packs up his office and leaves West Canaan High before the end of the last game.
- Paul Walker as Lance Harbor, the original captain and starting quarterback of the Coyotes. Lance is a two-year all state quarterback with a scholarship to play at Florida State University. He blows out his knee during his senior year, thereby ruining his future playing career due to the cortisone shots he was taking to deaden the pain from his knee. He is Mox's best friend and the boyfriend of Cheerleader captain Darcy Sears. Lance coaches the Coyotes in their final game and becomes a coach after high school.
- Ron Lester as Billy Bob, an overweight but powerful offensive guard. Billy Bob is a rambunctious party animal and main part of the team. Initially beloved by Kilmer because of his "heart" (meaning playing with a concussion), he later falls out of favor with Kilmer when he misses a block that allows Lance's knee to be destroyed. Billy Bob is desperate to please Kilmer, but his head is injured. After crying following a loss, Kilmer humiliates Billy Bob in front of the entire team and upon returning to school; Billy Bob goes to a pee-wee football field to think about committing suicide. Mox finds him and tells him that he, and the team needs him. Billy Bob gets a CAT Scan and his head has healed and he wins the last game for the Coyotes on a trick play.
- Scott Caan as Charlie Tweeder, a wild, cocky and hard partying wide receiver for the Coyotes. Tweeder hosts after-game football parties where there are drugs, alcohol, and while two Texas State Police officers visit a party to confiscate the alcohol, they tell Tweeder to leave, where he promptly steals their car and goes joyriding in it, yet he is not arrested due to Kilmer's influence on the entire town, including law enforcement. Despite his rough edges, Tweeder is a good friend, sticking up for Mox, Lance, Wendell, and Billy Bob and does not hide his disdain for Kilmer as a coach or a person.
- Richard Lineback as Joe Harbor, Lance's and Jules's father. A typical dad obsessed with football in West Canaan and routinely teases Mox and his father for Mox backing up Lance. Joe was obviously a good player in high school and played for Kilmer. He is shown to be supportive of Mox after he becomes the starter.
- Amy Smart as Jules Harbor, Mox's girlfriend and Lance's younger sister. Jules seems to be the only other person than Mox who despises the obsession of football in the town. She likes Mox as he is different than the rest of the guys on the team, but when Mox becomes the starter she is afraid he is becoming just like the rest of the town. After a brief fight, they reconcile at the end of the last game.
- Eliel Swinton as Wendell Brown, the only African American player on the team. Wendell is a fast and very talented running back, but is not being recruited because Kilmer does not let him score touchdowns when the team gets inside the Red Zone, despite Wendell averaging 133 yards per game rushing. He is upset at being "Kilmer's black work horse." Mox changes the plays in the huddle to get Wendell into the end zone, much to the chagrin of Kilmer. Wendell tears his hamstring at halftime of the last game and almost takes a pain killer shot to stay in the game, but Lance urges him not to do this as does Mox, Tweeder, and Billy Bob. This leads to Kilmer attacking Mox in the locker room at halftime. After high school, Wendell gets a scholarship to play at Grambling State University.
- Thomas F. Duffy as Sam Moxon, Mox's football obsessed father. He prays for playing time for his son and is more concerned about upcoming games than the fact his son gained admission to an Ivy League school. Unlike his son he never looked at life beyond high school football and as a result after graduating settled into a rather dull life in a dead end job in the small Texas town and in a way wishes Mox would do the same. Kilmer calls Sam a "no talent wussy" when he played, but that he played hard and listened to Kilmer and that is the only reason Kilmer is putting up with Moxon.
- Joe Pichler as Kyle Moxon, Mox's younger brother who is into religions rather than football and infuriates his father with his indifference toward football and odd behavior.
- Ali Larter as Darcy Sears, Lance's girlfriend and the cheerleader captain. She goes after Mox when Lance goes down, but Mox turns her down out of loyalty to his friend Lance and to his girlfriend Jules. It ends up like Mox she wishes to do more with her life as well and was mainly dating Lance because she saw his football scholarship to Florida State as a ticket out of a dead end life in the small Texas town.
- Tonie Perensky as Miss Davis, a teacher at West Canaan High School who moonlights as a stripper at the local strip club The Landing Strip. Miss Davis provides one of the highlights of the movie, letting Mox, whom she refers to with the very formal 'Johnathan', show off his intelligence discussing the 'male erection' and it's common slang, during a class of sexual reproduction.
Reception and legacy
The film opened at #1 at the North American box office making $17.5 million USD in its opening weekend. Though the film had a 39.6% decline in earnings, it was still enough to keep the film at the top spot for another week.
Critical reception was mixed; the film has a 40% ("Rotten") approval rating from 52 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus "This is a predictable football movie that lacks intensity." Roger Ebert noted in his Chicago Sun-Times review that "Scenes work, but they don't pile up and build momentum." ReelViews online film critic James Berardinelli's summary was that although the film "takes a worthwhile detour or two, it ultimately finds its way back to the well-worn track of its genre."
The film was later parodied in the 2001 film Not Another Teen Movie, in which Ron Lester reprises his role of Billy Bob by playing a nearly identical character named Reggie Ray. Ali Larter's whipped cream bikini was also parodied. It was also quoted in the 2004 film Mean Girls as being Regina George's favorite movie.
Being a production of MTV Films, "Varsity Blues" was filled with a soundtrack of well known bands and little known songs. The soundtrack album was published by Hollywood Records and contained:
- Walkin' The Line - by Shawn Camp
- My Girlfriend is a Waitress - by The Iguanas
- Nice Guys Finish Last - by Green Day
- Problems - by the Flamin' Hellcats
- Unnoticed - by Anathenaeum
- Love-a-Rama - by Southern Culture on the Skids
- Texas Flood - by Stevie Ray Vaughn
- One Foot in Front of the Other - by Lee Roy Parnell
- Disappear - by Saffron Henderson
- Are You Ready for the Fallout - by Fastball
- Wayward Wind - by Tex Ritter
- Pride of San Jacinto - by The Reverend Horton Heat
- Run - by Collective Soul
- You Blew Me Off - by Bare, Jr.
- Valley of the Pharaohs - by The Hellecasters
- Lonesome Ain't the Word - by Shawn Camp
- Same Old Feeling - by Tim Buppert
- If Your Girl Only Knew - by Aaliyah
- Boom Boom Boom - by The Iguanas
- Horror Show - by Third Eye Blind
- Hot for Teacher - by Van Halen
- Thunderstruck - by AC/DC
- Voices Inside My Head - by Amber Sunshower
- My Hero - by Foo Fighters
- Every Little Thing Counts - by Janus Stark
- Fly - by Loudmouth
- Nitro (Youth Energy) - by Offspring
- 1999 Teen Choice Awards
- Best Breakout Performance: James Van Der Beek (won)
- Best Dramatic Film (nominated)
- 1999 MTV Movie Awards
- Best Breakout Performance: James Van Der Beek (won)
- Best Movie Song (nominated)
- 2000 Blockbuster Entertainment Awards
- Best Male Newcomer: James Van Der Beek (nominated)
- Varsity Blues at Box Office Mojo
- "Moviegoers Get the 'Blues,' Big Time - Los Angeles Times". Articles.latimes.com. 1998-08-02. Retrieved 2014-02-03.
- "'Varsity Blues' Runs to Daylight to Stay No. 1 - Los Angeles Times". Articles.latimes.com. 2009-10-30. Retrieved 2014-02-03.
- Sobczynski, Peter (1999-01-15). "Varsity Blues Movie Review & Film Summary (1999)". Roger Ebert. Retrieved 2014-02-03.
- "Reelviews Movie Reviews". Reelviews.net. 1999-01-15. Retrieved 2014-02-03.
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- Varsity Blues at the Internet Movie Database
- Varsity Blues at AllMovie
- Varsity Blues at Box Office Mojo
- Varsity Blues at Rotten Tomatoes
- Varsity Blues at Metacritic