Production Company: Columbia Pictures
Director: Michael Tollin
Principals: Cuba Gooding Jr., Ed Harris, Debra Winger
Rating: PG (mild language and thematic elements)
By Gregg Tubbs
(UMC.org) -- Every ticket sold for Radio should automatically come with a box of tissues. Radio is little bit tearjerker and a little bit feel-good movie, and as with the best of these, this sentimental drama evokes tears of sorrow, followed by tears of joy. And what’s wrong with that? If you get a little misty-eyed every time you watch It’s a Wonderful Life, then Radio is right up your alley.
Radio is the story of a small town high school football coach (Ed Harris) and his improbable friendship with a young man nicknamed “Radio” (Cuba Gooding Jr.) for his love of cast-off radios and the music that comes from them. As played by the always-excellent Harris, Coach Jones is a particularly admirable roll-model – honest, humble, tough, but fair, intent on winning, but ultimately more concerned about the welfare and character development of the boys on the team. Maybe coaches like this only exist in the movies, but I suspect there are quite a few out there.
|Radio is the story of a small town high school football coach and his improbable friendship with a young man nicknamed Radio. Copyright © 2002 Columbia Pictures|
Based on a true story that first appeared in Sports Illustrated, Radio is set in South Carolina in 1976, and confronts the issue of prejudice, but surprisingly, not because Radio is black, but because he is mentally challenged. Coach Jones, like everyone in town is aware of Radio, as the challenged, nearly mute young man who pushes a shopping cart full of odds and ends around town, listening to one of his many radios. Gooding, who can tend to be over-the-top, tempers his performance just enough to make Radio endearing and even courageous. Unlike the rest of the town, Coach Jones refuses to turn away from this different young man. “He’s got a good heart,” Radio’s ever-patient mother (Epatha Merkerson) explains to Jones. “But most folks don’t look deep enough to see it.”
After Radio has a cruel run-in with some of the more immature members of his football team, Jones decides to teach the boys a lesson in tolerance by making Radio his unofficial assistant. As the bond grows between the coach, the team and Radio, they learn the age-old lesson that recognizing the humanity in others inevitably enhances your own humanity. With their help, Radio comes out of his shell, becomes more communicative and even attends classes at their school. From Radio, they all learn (including Jones) lessons in patience, loyalty, the intrinsic value of every individual and the power of simple human kindness.
|After Radio has a cruel run-in with some of the more immature members of his football team, Jones decides to teach the boys a lesson in tolerance by making Radio his unofficial assistant. Copyright © 2002 Columbia Pictures|
For Jones, his decision to make Radio part of team activities comes with a price. Some football boosters see Radio as a distraction, whose presence on the sidelines contributes to a string of losses. The local barbershop becomes a sort of weekly courtroom, where Jones must hear the verdict on his performance and that of his team. I grew up in a small town and was a senior in high school in 1976, and believe me, these scenes ring true. The coach of the town’s prestige sport (mine was wrestling, not football) held a powerful, but tenuous sway over the community. But as coach, your status was only as good as your team’s last game and this is portrayed with acute accuracy in Radio. The question here is, will Coach Jones stick to his principles to do what he knows is right, even at the expense of public opinion and the security of his own job?
Radio is a film about doing the right thing, despite public pressure, no matter what the cost. Part of the cost for Jones is that the time he spends mentoring Radio, takes away from the time he can spend with his own teenage daughter. In the end, Jones strikes a balance and delivers a powerful message to the town, and those he loves, about priorities and how our choices affect those around us. Here, we see the paradox that even when doing what’s right, we may inadvertently be hurting someone else.
|Radio is a film about doing the right thing, despite public pressure, no matter what the cost. Copyright © 2002 Columbia Pictures|
Is Radio manipulative? Of course it is. But most popular films are manipulative. To me, the real question is: does it work? Radio works. During the closing credits, when we’re shown images of the real Radio and Coach Jones, I looked to my right and saw another grown man hiding his teary eyes behind the ruse of cleaning a speck from his glasses. He couldn’t fool me. But it was all right. I was crying too. If you’d like to enjoy a good cry too, and leave the theatre feeling good, go check out Radio.
Gregg Tubbs is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Maryland.