Sports dramas usually come with a certain dose of predictability. It’s mostly either the journey of an underdog or an inspiring tale of a person/team hitting rock bottom and then peaking dramatically. Netflix’s Home Team is an interesting mix of both. In fact, it has quite a few similarities to the Indian classic Chak De India, which is arguably a benchmark film in this genre. Unlike the goosebump-inducing Shah Rukh Khan film, Home Team is comfortable being a light-hearted comedy. While all the warmth and comfort emanating from the film is good, one can’t really shake off the fact that Home Team is based on a true scandal, which conveniently gets swept under the blanket.
Home Team is based on the real-life story of New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, and the core narrative kicks off with him being suspended by America’s National Football League (NFL) following his involvement in a scandal. Once Payton (Kevin James) is ousted from the NFL, he returns to his now-estranged family.
During his desperate visits to try and bond with his son (Tait Blum), Payton observes that his son’s football team, Argyle Warriors, is in a state of disarray. He realises that the kids have potential but lack proper guidance. Payton, who is seeking redemption, personally and professionally, joins the coaching team. Initially, it looks as if it’s the team that needs his help but as the narrative progresses, we understand that it was Payton who needed the team’s help.
The storytelling here is simple, straightforward, and generic. It hardly breaks any new ground but yet largely works in what it’s trying to achieve. Where it gets problematic is that the film doesn’t get into the ‘Bountygate’ scandal or its intricacies. For the uninitiated, the scandal was about Payton’s players being paid bonuses, or “bounties,” for injuring opposition team players. However, the film hardly has a mention of what the scandal was or Payton’s role in the same.
Here, the focus is more on his coming-of-age and how he redeems himself by grooming his son’s team. It is about Payton learning to prioritise relationships and his realisation that it’s not always about winning. At one point, he says, “you play football for fun and fun comes from winning” but as the film wraps up we see how this theory is turned upside down.
It is quite clear that the makers didn’t want to delve into the scandal angle. But even then, one cannot help but wish that the writing (Chris Titone, Keith Blum) explored more of Payton’s personal side. He seems hardly bothered about the controversy. Although it was his longing to get closer to his son that made Payton take up the coaching offer, we don’t really get to see any father-son bonding off the field. It’s mostly a showreel for Payton, the genius coach.
Home Team could’ve been so much more, but it seems like its makers, Charles Kinnane and Daniel Kinnane, were content with it being just a comforting sports film about a bunch of kids and their new coach.
For what it is, the film is entertaining and does spread a few smiles, but the whitewashing definitely leaves a sour aftertaste.
Film: Home Team
Director: Charles Kinnane and Daniel Kinnane
Streaming on: Netflix