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March 10, 2023 / Universal Pictures Canada

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Kaitlin Olson, Ernie Hudson, Cheech Marin​​

Directed By: Bobby Farrelly

Woody Harrelson stars in the hilarious and heartwarming story of a former minor-league basketball coach who, after a series of missteps, is ordered by the court to manage a team of players with intellectual disabilities. He soon realizes that despite his doubts, together, this team can go further than they ever imagined.

Written By Darren

Rating 4 out of 5

Champions wears its heart on its sleeve, creating a truly delightful and heartfelt comedy that thanks to laugh out loud moments and wonderful characters, is one of the most enjoyable theatrical experiences of the year so far.

Walking into films like Champions, you know exactly how they are going to play out, but it shouldn’t bother you as you have come for that feel good experience they offer. It’s an underdog story full of heart and charm, that despite its R rating and moments of crude humour, is a film that is going to have audiences cheering and laughing throughout, and exiting the theater with the biggest smile on their face!

The film itself is an English language remake of the Spanish film of the same name, which follows Woody Harrelson’s Marcus, a junior league basketball coach who is fired from his job and gets arrested for drinking and driving. Rather than serving jail time, he agrees to community service coaching a local basketball team of adults with intellectual disabilities. While Marcus is set on making his way onwards and upwards to a coaching position in the NBA, Marcus begins to learn some valuable life lessons from his new team and adpots a new view on life.

You know the plot beats for the entire story and where it will end, but the screenplay is overwhelming with great comedic moments and a plethora of heart that creates a truly delightful film. The humour may use swear words and sexual innuendo, but it is used in good fun and not intended to offend but rather present life as it is… just with some extra colour. For its entirety, the film has the audience laughing along with its characters as they invite the audience into their character’s daily lives, embracing diversity at every possible moment. It truly is surprising that this film heralds from director Bobby Farrelly, who is know for more raunchy comedies with his brother Peter Farrelly, but Bobby is following in his brother’s footsteps and echoing the sentiment of Green Book and The Greatest Beer Run Ever: films with great comedy moments but addressing important topics in an accessible way. The result is a film that will tug on your heart strings with its incredibly sweet story that anyone can enjoy.

In terms of the cast, Harrelson is the obvious actor for Marcus. He has always excelled in these rough around the edges character, while instilling them with true heart and compassion underneath the surface. Therefore, it is no surprise that Harrelson is great in the film, and his romantic co-star Kaitlin Olson is the perfect match for Harrelson’s energy. Ernie Hudson, Cheech Martin and Matt Cook have strong supporting turns as coaching staff that Marcus works with, but it is the supporting cast members who portray the athletes on the basketball team who make the film memorable. All of the actors have intellectual disabilities, allowing their authentic selves to populate their characters. They are all incredibly talented, bursting with energy on screen and creating the team comradery that is required to bring the story to life. Every single one of them is exceptional, delivering performances full of heart that make the film the joyful experience it is and ensuring you will remember their characters. But it is Madison Tevlin as Cosentino who is the scene stealer of the entire film. From the second she appears on screen, Tevlin is a comedic force to be reckoned with creating the funniest moments of the film. Her no nonsense attitude that she instills with Cosentino demands your attention, while having you adore all her character’s personality traits, such as having sporting equipment that is not required but she will tell you “don’t worry about it.”

Not all films released today need to be blockbusters full of dazzling CGI and death defying stunts to get audiences back to theaters. Sometimes you just need a crowd pleasing film that all audiences can enjoy that will have them laughing and having fun from start to finish, and Champions is that exact film and so much more. Not only does it have a great story, highlighting intellectually disabled characters with outstanding performances from a  cast of actors with intellectual disabilities who infuse the film with an undeniable amount of heart and energy, Champions is truly a feel good experience that will have you cheering and laughing from start to finish!

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