June 23, 2024

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT: More Reliable Than Memorable

2023 / 123 min
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😽

We’ve all seen these movies…inspirational sports stories (based on true events, of course) where the underdog emerges triumphant against all odds. For awhile, Disney had the market cornered in this genre, fine-tuning the formula into a string of can’t-miss family friendly films calculated to stir warm fuzzies. 

The Boys on the Boat is an Amazon/MGM film, but is the exact same kind of feel-good fare Disney’s been cranking out for a few decades. As such, it follows the sports flick playbook step by step, which isn’t always a bad thing since a few of them have been truly great (Miracle and Invincible immediately come to mind).

But while certainly watchable, The Boys in the Boat is especially monotonic and innocuous, as if genuinely afraid to rock the boat (pun intended) by including a curveball or two. 

Based on a book by Daniel James Brown, the story takes place in 1936 at the University of Washington, where Coach Al Ulbrickson (Joel Edgerton) is trying to put together a junior varsity rowing team. Of the hundreds who show up for tryouts, only eight are selected, including Joe Rantz (Callum Turner), a homeless engineering student hoping to make the team because it includes a paying job and place to stay. 

"Grab me a pack of smokes while you're out."
Of course, these novices are quickly whipped into shape, even surpassing the varsity team and surprising everybody (except the audience) by winning every race, ultimately qualifying for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Along the way, conflict is minimal and the few crises that do arise are usually resolved within a scene or two. For the most part, the tone is as consistent as driving across Nebraska…straight ahead, with few narrative bumps or turns. Even the romantic subplot with Joe and Joyce (Hadley Robinson) is practically drama-free, save for when Joe momentarily forgets to kiss her goodbye before boarding a train.

The Boys in the Boat features nice attention to period detail and a good cast doing their best with stock characters. Aside from Joe and Coach Ulbrickson, the rest of the team are comparatively anonymous…practically extras. The film is directed by George Clooney, who has an affinity for historical dramas, though this one is certainly no Good Night and Good Luck. It’s fairly entertaining in the moment, but adheres so closely to an established formula that it ends up being more reliable than memorable.

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