Directed by: Bobby Farrelly
Written by: Mark Rizzo
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Kaitlin Olson, Ernie Hudson, Cheech Marin, Madison Tevlin, Joshua Felder
Released: March 9, 2023
Grade: B


The Farrelly brothers, Peter and Bobby, rose to fame in the 1990s with a string of memorable movies which pushed limits in terms of toilet humour and gross-out scenes – Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, and There’s Something About Mary.  They’ll always be known for their work in the comedic genre but their style, tone, and project selection has evolved over time.  Peter won two Academy Awards for his work on biographical drama Green Book (best picture, best original screenplay) while Bobby recently directed 14 episodes of the well-received television drama Loudermilk.

Champions is Bobby’s latest creation (Peter wasn’t involved this time around) and while there are splashes of the gross-out humour we’ve grown to enjoy (political incorrectness, vomit), this is a more mellow, sentimental film.  It’s based on a 2018 Spanish comedy-drama which itself was based on a true story.  Working with first-time screenwriter Mark Rizzo, the goal is to make us laugh while also feeling better about the world around us.

Woody Harrelson, collaborating with Farrelly for the second-time after Kingpin, stars as Marcus Markovich, an assistant coach for the Iowa Stallions basketball team.  He knows the game as well as anyone but he struggles to build a connection with players because of his “I’m always right” mentality and inability to listen to other opinions.  Things go fully off the rails when he’s sacked for slapping the head coach during a game, and then later arrested for being three times over the blood alcohol limit while driving.

Narrowly avoiding an 18-month prison sentence, Marcus is assigned 90 days of community service coaching a team of 10 youngsters with intellectual disabilities.  There’s an added layer of authenticity given the actors we see on screen have the same disabilities off screen.  Hundreds auditioned from across the United States and Canada and, for the lucky few selected, most are making their acting debuts.  They have distinctive, infectious personalities which will help keep audiences invested in their fate.

The other reason to see this film is for the terrific performance of Kaitlin Olson (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia).  She plays Marcus’s on-again, off-again love interest and earns laughs because of her brutal, no-nonsense persona.  She instantly sees through Marcus’s bullshit but, despite her intelligence and quick-wit, she does have a vulnerable side which is hard to fully supress.  The scenes Olson and Harrelson share, with an emphasis on their initial introduction, are a major selling point.

Performances aside, it’s a fairly standard, predictable screenplay which doesn’t take many chances.  You can expect to see the team improving as they try to qualify for the championship final in Winnipeg, and you will also observe Marcus as he loses his ignorant, self-centred nature and shows more interest in those around him.  It’s a feel-good movie above all else.  Champions might be low on surprises…  but it’s still an easy film to like.