When the title for Varsity Blues first appears onscreen, the letters are in silhouette, and a red, white and blue flag ripples in the background. But the flag turns out not to be American, but the lone star emblem of the state of Texas.
That’s just the first of many heavy-handed allusions to what screenwriter W. Peter Iliff and director Brian Robbins posit in Varsity Blues – that Texas is a different country altogether, where high school football is not just an obsession or way of life, but an actual religion, and every able-bodied boy is indoctrinated from an early age.
Within this environment, high school senior Jonathan Moxon, aka Mox (James Van Der Beek), has evolved into that strangest of teenage anomalies: a sensitive jock. A smart, modest fellow, he loves the game of football – when it’s pure – and dreams of a life worlds away from the dead-end small town of West Canaan, Texas. Mox is second-string quarterback for the Coyotes, a team with a tradition of regional and state championships under the tutelage of the tyrannical coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight, all sadistic bluster). He figures he’s safe, warming the bench while the quarterback is treated like the Messiah, but when Mox is thrust from understudy to overnight star, his passive, nonconformist worldview is in for a serious bruising.
Varsity Blues does a good job of showing how a community enables and indulges the bad behavior of football players. These reckless, self-indulgent boys aren’t prepared for post-graduation life, full of bittersweet reminiscing about their championship days. That is, until they can bask in the reflected glory of their sons. Unfortunately, every pointed comment about arrested development or deliberate exploitation is undone by moments of mean-spirited, gross-out comedy, mostly at the expense of one enormous football player.
For all its talk about demystifying the religion of football, all Varsity Blues does is add more fuel to the mythic fire by portraying boys who usurp the evil ruler of their collective destiny – becoming not just men in the process, but heroes and, yes, even gods.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].