Friday Night Lights

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            You may learn more than you want to know about Texans from ďFriday Night Lights.Ē  H.G. Bissinger wrote a book based on a year he spent with the Permian Panthers high school football team of Odessa, Texas;  Based on that book, David Aaron Cohen and Peter Berg have written a script that crackles for nearly two hours with honesty and revelation.

            Itís not a stretch to say the entire self-image of Odessa rests on the shoulders of the home teamís   ability to march to the state finals.  Businessmen, lawyers, doctors, parents, and politicians talk about little else but football, and the conversation is peppered with veiled, and sometimes not so veiled, threats toward anyone who thinks about anything less than winning this yearís championship.  

            Odessa is a land of narrow hips, bronze belt buckles, and big ambitions.  The boys of Odessa drink, drive, yell, and find sex.  In most cases they never stop living the culture of their town as adults.  If the ambitions can be described, it might be to play ball for Odessa , to parent a son who would play ball for Odessa , and to be in that stadium every Friday night.  Itís a vast understatement to say that football is a distraction in a town where most men sell cars and insurance to their neighbors.  Itís not a distraction; itís a religion. 

            A father (Tim McGraw) tapes a football to his grown sonís hands, punishment for a Friday night fumble, then kicks out the windows of his sonís car after a loss.  Surrounded by barren desert dotted with oil rigs and sage brush tufts, football makes this town bigger than life.  An enormous marching band, capacity crowds, foul tempers, and stadiums that in other parts of the country would host college teams, are simply assumed.  All over Texas , towns with names unfamiliar to most of the country are propelled by a life force based on ďWhoís going to the Astrodome for the finals?Ē  An injury may lead to loading a garbage truck.  Success will lead to a football scholarship.  Becoming alumni is likely to mean repeating the paternal cycle:  sell cars or drive a truck, and be in that stadium Friday night. 

            Billy Bob Thornton has found a way to play Coach Gaines as a multi faceted guy Ė half temper tantrums, half controlled calm.  Alone among the fans and parents, Gaines seems to care about his players.  Mrs. Coach Gaines is played right on key by Connie Britton.  But the star of this show is the culture of Odessa .   Friday night is all about headphones, communication, and desperation with life riding on the outcome.   This is high school football that has assumed the importance of the war in Iraq .                        

            Winning each game is more important than experience, jobs, friendships, or education.  Itís hard to imagine the values that are carried forth by citizens of a state culture that worships winning without ever asking what it is they are winning or why.  


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