“I want to count someday,” Gwen said, as the screen faded to black, “what percentage of sports movies end with a heroic freeze frame. It must be at least fifty or sixty percent?”
“Was that the end?”Eleanor asked, though the beginning of the credits answered the question for her.
“What else did you think would happen?” asked Gwen.
“I don’t know, some kind of post-win scene,” Eleanor said. “Something having to do with the relationship to Zoë Saldana.”
“That already ended.” Dania slumped into Gwen’s lap. “They’re going to take it from the beginning, remember?”
“Right, right,” Eleanor remembered, before pursing her lips. “And I guess she changed her major to Dance, too.”
“What do you mean?”
“Because she was a philosophy major, right? In the first scene.” Eleanor glanced to Gwen for defense. “She’s like, ‘my parents won’t let me study dance.’ But then at the end, she’s a dance major.”
“I always thought she was just lying the first time,” Dania explained.
“Why would she lie about it?” Gwen asked.
“Yeah,” Eleanor wondered. “It’s not like saying she was a philosophy major was going to get Nick Cannon off her back in the library.”
“Nothing could get Nick Cannon off her back,” Gwen said, rolling her eyes. “It’s who he is.”
Eleanor looked again towards Gwen. “I’m sensing hostility in that, Gwen,” she said.
“Don’t tell me he’s not a pill for half this movie,” she replied. “Justifiably so, I grant you, but a jerk who gets rewarded for not learning anything.”
“Well, that’s the point, but yeah,” Dania said. “I mean, you’re not wrong, but still.”
“It’s true, there’s more of a justification for it than there is in most sports movies,” Gwen added. “The scene where he goes to confront his father about graduation is probably the most important part of the film, for character motivation.”
“Oh, totally,” Eleanor agreed.
“I don’t know,” Dania said. “I think he’s just like that. It’s not all, ‘he’s a jerk because he never had a father.’ The dad does send him a gift halfway through.”
“But it’s not just that, though,” Eleanor added. “It’s like, yes, there’s some natural attitude that Nick Cannon has––”
“What’s the name, Devon?” Gwen asked.
“Yeah, but come on,” Eleanor said dryly. “The character has attitude, but the father scene also indicates that he’s gotten where he has, up to this point, on his own. He’s never had to work as part of a team because he’s more comfortable on his own.”
“It’s the ideal personal conflict for a film about marching band,” Gwen said. “One Band, One Sound is a touch cheesy as a tagline, but it’s not inaccurate.”
“You ever play an instrument, Gwen?” Dania asked.
“Clarinet,” she answered. “Only in high school, though.”
Dania – who had played tenor sax in her college marching band for one year – listened along as the credits music played. Laying down in Gwen’s lap, she shook her head to the beat.
“I mentioned about why I watched this in the first place, right?” Dania said.
“It was mandatory during Band Camp freshman year, right?” Eleanor suggested. “Or something like that?”
“Something like that,” Dania said, sitting up. “Our section leader made us all watch it, because it’s important. There’s not another movie about marching band, that focuses on the band like this one does.”
“Although I would point out,” Gwen added. “Marching Band at college was totally different than this. With the dancing and pageantry.”
“Well, we didn’t go to an HBCU,” Dania said. “At the black colleges, marching band is really important. So is Stepping and the culture around that, and it’s represented accurately here.”
“With a touch more drama thrown in, natch,” Eleanor suggested.
Dania eyed the screen. “Eh,” she replied. “Not that much. It’s high stakes. We never did anything like the marching competition at the end of the movie, but they’re real.”
“You know,” Gwen said, “for a sports movie, there’s surprisingly little sports in it. The finale isn’t even at a football game.”
“Why do you keep saying ‘sports movie?'” Eleanor asked. She stood up and walked to the kitchen. “Band isn’t a sport.”
“Marching band is a sport!” Dania called after her. “Tell that to my sore thighs freshman year!”
“I’m discussing film structure, Eleanor,” Gwen said. “There’s a standard set of tropes you expect to see in a movie like this. The underdog team, a doubtful coach, the collection of supporting characters, a forced love triangle dependent on the team’s victory in a major competition. All of that.”
“How is Zoë Saldana’s love based on the victory?” Eleanor asked. “That gets resolved before they even compete.”
Gwen shrugged. “Well, to be honest, I don’t think the love story works in this movie.”
Dania looked shocked. “How can you say that about Nick Cannon’s irresistible charm?”
Gwen stared at Dania with impending horror. “What charm?” she shouted.
But Dania only placed a hand on Gwen’s shoulder. “I’m kidding, Gwen, I know he’s a jerk. I know the love is a little rushed, but they’re cute together the whole way through.”
“But what does the love story have to do with the marching band story?” Gwen asked. “Legitimately: if you cut out every scene with Zoë Saldana, would you lose anything from the plot of the movie?”
“Yes,” Dania said. She thought through the film again, tracing the scenes where Saldana appeared. In the frat party – which was never brought up again. Her snub of Cannon after he incites an on-field riot – alongside other characters who do the same. Her eventual forgiveness and restart of their relationship – which mirrors the same restarting he’s already gone through while arranging music for the band.
“Just give me a minute to think of the scene,” Dania stalled.
“You were talking about sports movies, Gwen,” Eleanor reminded her.
“Ah, yes,” Gwen returned. “Even if the subject isn’t about a traditional ‘sport,’ the beats and structure of the movie are of that genre. Think about The Coach.”
“You mean the band director?” Eleanor added.
“Sure, but it’s The Coach, that’s the type,” Gwen agreed. “You also have The Troublemaker, The Love Interest, The Principal, The Veteran, The Fat One, The…in this case, I suppose The White One.”
“I didn’t love the coach,” Eleanor said. “The band director, I mean. I thought he ran out of things to do once Nick Cannon was kicked off the team.”
“Out of the band,” Dania corrected.
“Out of the––” Eleanor began, before staring at Gwen. “Okay, I get what you were talking about, about sports movies.”
“I don’t think he totally runs out of things to do,” Dania said. “There’s still the rivalry with Morris Brown to deal with, so you can see him struggling to make the band more energetic and exciting. The duties of being The Coach just shift to the Section Leader of the drums.”
“Yeah, but that also kind of falls to Nick Cannon, too,” Eleanor said. “Like, Section Leader and Nick Cannon go to the band director with an arrangement of music already done, which basically does his work for him on making the music selections more interesting.”
“Well, Nick Cannon is the protagonist,” Dania said. “So it makes sense that the movie would end with him saving the band. It shows that he’s learned to play with everyone else – the final drum battle is about that, too.”
“Is he the protagonist, though?” Gwen asked. “I figure the protagonist is the entire band, since they’re the ones competing in the Big Game at the end.”
Eleanor returned from the kitchen, a glass of ice water in hand. “Didn’t we just make the argument that the movie is constructed around Nick Cannon proving his dad wrong, or whatever?”
“It is, for certain,” Gwen agreed. “But if that’s the only payoff at the end, I don’t know why they bothered to characterize the supporting cast as much as they do in the first act of the movie. None of them contribute to the Big Game the same way that Nick Cannon does.”
“Hm,” Eleanor said, taking a drink. “I suppose that’s not unfair.”
“It’s as if the movie forgets it’s a sports movie after the second act,” Gwen explained. “It focuses real hard on Nick Cannon at the expense of the rest of the band – which is the complete opposite of the point the film is making.”
“We get a little bit of side characters,” Dania said. “I like the thread about the white guy wanting to get his bass drum spot back. The challenge scenes are really well shot, and it shows that Nick Cannon has learned enough music to teach someone else about it.”
“Sure,” Gwen said. “Though it doesn’t have much to do with winning the Big Game. They’d play the same whether or not white guy is a P2 or P3 rank.”
Dania shrugged. “It’s still pretty good. As far as movies about music and bands go, it’s way up there.”
“It’s all right,” Eleanor said. “There’s some interesting stuff about Nick Cannon being very talented at the drums, and whether or not having massive talent excuses you from following the rules. I know the movie ultimately says that he should, but it’s interesting that it doesn’t happen until about halfway through the movie.”
“And it’s a fantastic representation of the culture around historically black colleges,” Dania added. “Sure, you’ve got the one white character, but he’s not the lead, and the movie is saturated with aspects of black collegiate culture. I feel like for a lot of audiences, this was their first time seeing that, and it’s represented in such a positive and accurate light.”
“Without tokenizing,” Gwen added. “It’s the ‘Fresh Off The Boat’ logic: the more specific you make the cultural allusions, the more universal the central message will be for all audiences.”
“But especially for audiences of color.”
“Hey, question:” Eleanor began. “Do you think Nick Cannon did his own drumming?”
“I know for a fact that he didn’t do all of it,” Dania answered. “Except in the final scene. There’s an oral history I need to send you.”
Image Credit: The Undefeated