My All-American opens with a beyond cliché framing device as Aaron Eckhart’s character reminisces about the greatest football player he ever coached. It doesn’t help that the dialog is cheesy, the exposition is forced, and Eckhart is wearing some of the worst old man makeup since Leonardo DiCaprio in J. Edgar. A couple minutes in, you might be thinking to yourself, “this is going to be so corny.” There’s no denying that My All-American is a corny film, just like every other sports biopic. After that awkward opening, though, it fortunately settles into an effective picture with powerful performances and drama.
Finn Wittrock goes from playing an American psycho in American Horror Story to playing an All-American football player. As Freddy Steinmark, Wittrock wonderfully captures the spirit of a wide-eyed young man who dreams of playing football. Although he’s the fastest and most dedicated player on his high school team, every college thinks Freddy’s too small to play the game. The only one who will take a chance on him is Coach Darrell Royal (Eckhar) at the University of Texas. Freddy helps carry his team to victory, but he does much more than that. He acts as the team’s heart and soul.
Wittrock portrays Freddy as a beacon of inspiration who’s infectiously friendly and always optimistic. He’s the kind of positive person anybody would want in their corner. Even when the worst tragedy imaginable befalls him, Freddy refuses to give nothing less than his all. Some may argue that the film almost makes Freddy out to be too perfect, but he’s truly an encouraging role model that we can all learn from.
Freddy maintains loving relationships with his nurturing parents (Robin Tunney and Michael Reilly Burke), his beautiful girlfriend (Sarah Bolger), and loyal best friend (Rett Terrell). His faith and can-do attitude especially rubs off on his coach. Eckhar finds just the right balance as both the stern authority figure and the caring mentor who puts his player’s welfare above all else. You keep waiting for a one-dimensional bully or rival to enter the mix, but there aren’t any bad guys here. There’s just life, which can cruelly get cut short when a person is in their prime.
If you’re officially tired of the sports movie formula, My All-American isn’t going to blow you away. However, it’s still a hard movie not to enjoy and admire. That’s largely because it feels 100% sincere, never manipulating its audience or taking cheap shots. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the film was directed by Angelo Pizzo, who wrote Hoosiers and Rudy. My All-American encompasses the same inspirational essence of those films, additionally calling to mind Pride of the Yankees and Brian’s Song. In his directorial debut, Pizzo does a strong job at capturing the intensity of the football scenes and the genuineness of the quieter moments. Even if it can feel romanticized at times, there’s no doubt that Pizzo’s made a fitting tribute to Steinmark’s life.