The Long Game


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The Long Game Movie viewers of a movie about a high school golf team made up of Mexican-American teenagers in the 1950s expect certain things. Sunlit greens will be there (writer/director has worked with , condescension and blatant bigotry, setbacks, supportive wives and girlfriends, comfortably nostalgic ’50s music, doubting family members, inspiring pep talks and a satisfying victory. That’s “The Long Game”, appealingly told with sincerity and taste.

The film is based on the story of five caddies called the Mustangs who built their own golf course to practice on in the middle of South Texas and went on to win the 1957 Texas State High School Golf Championship. The movie wastes no time pointing out that it takes place in Del Rio Texas with a sign in front of a store under “I Like Ike” which states “No dogs. No Mexicans.” JB Peña (a warm , likable is the new superintendent of schools who wants to join his local golf club. He believes that if Frank fought beside him during his Marine days he could put this historical discrimination behind him. No such luck though. As one member tells JB: “I’m afraid there’s just no place for you here.”

T he young caddies introduce themselves as one hits JB’s car window and shatters it. Instead of punishing them he offers to start a golf team at the school together with them. Joe stands out among all others because he initially turns down the offer but later agrees to participate in this activity . When Frank sees their commitment so strong they even build their own holes to play he agrees to help as an assistant coach.

JB has some contradictory goals for his team members too. They must tuck shirts into pants, be respectful people, look like they belong here; they should be seen as fitting in . He forbids speaking Spanish on the golf course. “The most important thing,” he tells them, “Is for people to see Mexicans golfing.” They should also be happy to be who they are, which is not what fitting in is. If anyone would wonder whether the line about “performing in front of rich bastards who don’t respect me” meant something to JB as a coach, they still need not have any doubt.

Some of it is overly predictable, even in such a familiar genre: The team is mistaken for caddies; a young club member skims a caddy’s tip. Twice the coach says life is like golf and asks, “Don’t you want to show them what you’re made of?” But Quintana deftly avoids some cliches. The white assistant coach does not save (or get saved by) the kids. These incidents leading up to the state championship game are skillfully edited and well chosen as an opportunity for JB’s wife who sympathetically takes her own path with her own struggles and her own golfing talents. Joe’s father has his own idea of fitting in, telling Joe not to play golf because people will laugh at him. Those words echo later as Joe says them to his girlfriend, who wants to attend a writing program.

“The Office’s” Oscar Nuñez plays a school principal who has useful contacts while (and he returns to the golf course after  is as always adorable in his golf club groundskeeper role that sees him with a cage-like device around his head to protect him from stray balls. Two diners, one which denies them service and another across the border they thought would be friendly but ends up jeering at them when it discovers their American status; are visited by the team. JB on the other hand is put in a situation where he must make choices between taking bribe or losing his life and ending the program.

Anybody familiar with this kind of stories should know that there are bound to be certain golf metaphors about human existence here. In fact, no sports game produces as many metaphors as golf does. Perhaps it stems from the fact that it goes beyond individual sight, since there are no referees but it operates on the basis of trust, because there are no spectators screaming in bleachers and finally because players walk between holes in silence. Golf is also played by business executives; this might be responsible for allusions drawn from this sport than any other. Probably, economics have limited its accessibility only to those individuals who can afford playing it making golf a sport associated with affluence and influence.

The long game is mainly power, distance and direction in golf. This culminates when players approach the last shot towards the hole involving control, strategy and finetuning. For these young men and their coach however, playing long means doing what they need to do just so they can get back into contention for championship even if that involves grinning at insults while swallowing pride when competition cheats off their tee box even though eventually; however, this movie isn’t about golf rather it’s about passion, determination and realizing your potential beyond your wildest dreams.

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