Reel Dad: Another football film 'Under the Stadium Lights' offers meaningful lessons

"Under the Stadium Lights" is currently screening in theaters and On Demand.

"Under the Stadium Lights" is currently screening in theaters and On Demand.

IMDb / Contributed photo

In West Texas, football matters.

On any fall weekend, whether game time is in the afternoon or evening, traffic slows in cities and towns as throngs of fans fill stadiums to cheer high school teams. No matter what else may go on in the world, at kickoff, all the eyes are on the game.

The well-intentioned “Under the Stadium Lights” revisits the Texas traditions of high school football once made famous by the book, film and television series “Friday Night Lights.” While the new entry may deliver less drama than the iconic original, the basic ingredients still create a meaningful look at how these communities rely on football to articulate how they commit to each other.

Director Todd Randall - working from the nonfiction book “Brother's Keeper” by Al Pickett and Chad Mitchell - follows the formula for films about football. In 2009, the underdog Abilene High School Eagles hunger for revenge after losing a big game in the district playoffs a year before. Leading the team are focused high school students facing their own challenges at home. Building the team’s confidence in themselves is a coach who trusts what his players can accomplish. Cheering the team is a community of positive souls who believe in what football can mean to a community. And comforting the team, the coach, the players and the community is a local minister who also serves as the team’s chaplain. Together they all enter the new football season with fresh ambitions fueled by their conviction in what this sport can mean.

With a clear sense of purpose, Randall closely follows the recipe to deliver what we expect. We smile when the beloved owner of a local barbecue restaurant welcomes players and their families. We cringe when players face disappointments with their siblings and parents. We cringe when violence strikes the town just as we hope the big game will help the community, and its people, soothe wounds and come together.

What’s needed for such a film to work are characters we care for, moments that inspire and football sequences to deliver the thrills. Randall succeeds with the characters, and creates some meaningful exchanges, but fails to make the sport as exciting as these movies demand. Rather than recreate dramatic moments on the field, the director relies on what appear to be actual television broadcasts of key moments in the crucial games. While this choice may contribute a dose of authenticity to the recipe, it dilutes the suspense that watching a movie about a football game should create. And that makes it more challenging to cheer at just the right moments.

Film Summary: Under the Stadium Lights

Content: Medium. How a community comes together to support its high school football team offers a thoughtful view of challenges people face on and off the field.

Entertainment: High. Thanks to a clear point of view, and a meaningful message, the film delivers most of what it promises despite a lack of energetic football sequences.

Message: High. As entertaining as the film can be, what lingers after it ends is the support that thrives in this community.

Relevance: High. Any opportunity to remind ourselves what community can mean is worth taking time at the movies.

Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film with your children, talk with them about what it means to live in a supportive community.

Despite these limitations, “Under the Stadium Lights” openly shares a point of view that, on and off the football field, people who come together to believe in community can create better worlds filled with caring and support. Whether or not the film fully succeeds on screen, the sincerity of this message deserves to be heard. Although we are thousands of miles from West Texas, what these people share can give us all something to consider and remember.

“Under the Stadium Lights” is rated PG for “some thematic elements, violence and bloody images, drug material and language.” The film is showing in theaters and On Demand, and runs 1 hour, 49 minutes.