It’s true that The Longshots is a film that offers few surprises. It’s also true that it is a manipulative tear-jerking coming-of-age movie directed by, of all people, Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst. But it’s also a movie that celebrates the power of girls who have the inclination, strength, and talent to play games reserved for boys.
Keke Palmer, in another brilliant performance after spelling her way to the National Spelling Bee in Akeelah and the Bee, plays Jasmine Plummer, a nerdy middle school girl who doesn’t fit in with anyone. What she likes to do is read (reading is what she does because she has nothing to do – if only every kid believed that).
When her single parent has to take on double shifts at the diner (I know, I know), Jasmine is left alone for hours. Rather than leave her kid to read every book in the local library, the mom (a very good Tasha Smith) enlists the help of the no-good, deadbeat dad’s brother, Curtis (an unforgettable Ice Cube). She begs Curtis, and then must pay him to look after Jasmine until she can get home. Naturally, he’s resistant and then relents; she’s resistant, then she relents, and before long, the two form a tentative bond.
Though Jasmine admits to Curtis that she’d like to be a model when she grows up, he has bigger and better dreams for her. After spotting her talent for throwing a football he urges her to try out for the football team. Immediately it’s clear where the plot is going and, for the most part, it doesn’t deviate from its intended path. But is that a bad thing?
It’s a little exhausting to watch as critics predictably roast a valuable film like this because it’s predictable. The sun coming up every morning is predictable but that doesn’t mean it isn’t breathtaking. The story of this girl was an important one, and utterly necessary. Jasmine Plummer was an 11 year-old girl who brought her team to the Pop Warner Tournament for the first time in 56 years. Maybe the next time a girl with a good arm is told she can’t play she can say, “Oh I can’t? Watch me.”
Palmer herself is gaining a reputation for playing tough girls who dwell on the outside. She immediately elicits sympathy and has a captivating ability to hit the high and low notes. Palmer is almost upstaged by Ice Cube whose performance is surprising. He’s a natural and so believable as an over-the-hill football player edging ever-so-slightly towards responsibility. It is these two performers who truly elevate the film. Jasmine finds in Curtis the father figure she never had, and he finds in her a reason to stop running away from life.
Yes, you’re probably rolling your eyes right now and I wouldn’t blame you if you did. But in deciding what’s a worthwhile film and what isn’t sometimes it’s necessary to weigh the value along with the artistic achievement. This film is valuable in ways other films try and fail at. Though directed by Durst, it’s only his second film. He shows promise, as do all of the actors.
This is a film that reminds us that family is about those who have your back, not necessarily those who share your blood. It is also a roadmap for girls who don’t necessarily want to be sugar and spice and everything nice. Some just want to play ball.