I’d like to tell you about the movie Draft Day. I liked it a lot. I don’t think anyone else did. The critics didn’t, for sure. Rotten Tomatoes said, “It’s a … dull-witted movie.” Roger Ebert’s site says, “Both too “inside baseball” for non-NFL fans to care and not nearly character- driven enough at the same time.”
The critics are right. It’s really not a good movie. Today, I want to tell you what I liked about it. It’s a movie that had moments in it. I’m going to tell you about the moments. And then, at the end, the one point that actually has some substance to it.
Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner) is general manager of the Cleveland Brown, as was his father before him. His girlfriend, Ali, (Jennifer Garner) is a Cleveland girl who is passionate about football and whose job with the Browns is keeping track of the team’s salary cap. They’ve been “going together” for awhile, it seems, and although she doesn’t look it until the last scene, Ali is pregnant. That’s not a very promising beginning.
Here is the context for the moments I like. First, Sonny and Ali are having a low-grade lovers’ quarrel. He keeps trying to patch it up by taking her into a supply closet and saying the right things. That plays all through the story. Second, Sonny is ordered by the owner to make a really stupid deal on draft day and Sonny goes along with it for most of the movie. Then he rejects the whole thing—and very likely his future with the Cleveland Browns—and makes the deal he really wants to make. Third, on this crucial day, there is a intern manning the desk outside Sonny’s office. He is treated badly by everyone and responds as if he knows how to be treated badly by everyone—until very near the end.
I’m going to take them in reverse order. Rick (Griffin Newman) has it tough in this movie. He has been thrown into a job with no preparation and he does a lot of things wrong. He keeps at it, though, and earns a kind of commendation from Sonny that I am sure he has never had in his life before this. Sonny puts a hand on Rick’s shoulder and says, “Look, you didn’t deserve this [Sonny just trashed Rick’s computer and this is part of an apology]. You’ve been a soldier today.” Then, in a “just us soldiers” gesture, he punches Rick gently in the chest and asks, “OK?” Rick says, “Yeah” and he says it with the beginnings of an “I did the winter at Valley Forge” look on his face. It is a look that face has never had before. Ever. It is a look that just became possible because of the “soldier” line and the fist to the chest. That look—that’s one of the moments.
The second moment is the look in Sonny’s eye when it occurs to him that there is still something he can do to save the Browns from the disaster the owner wished on them. Every move has been determined up to this. He has had no chance at all to do anything that would a) help the Browns and b) not get him fired. If he can find a way to get Jacksonville to trade the #6 pick to Cleveland, there might be a way. “Who’s the manager at Jacksonville?” asks Sonny. “Jeff Gordon,” responds scout #1. “A rookie,” adds scout #2 conspiratorially.
At that point—at that moment right there—a look comes into Sonny’s eyes. It’s the first time in the entire movie that he has seen himself as the kind of person or as being in the kind of situation where he can take a daring action on his own and possibly, just possibly, pull one off. That look is the second moment.
All the other moments have to do with Sonny and Ali and they’re all funny. Max Eastman, in his marvelous book on why things are funny, says that when you expect one thing and get another—in a context where taking it in a humorous way is possible—you think it’s funny. That’s how these moment are funny.
Here, for instance, is the first of several scenes in the storage closet. Sonny takes Ali in there just to get a moment’s peace so they can talk. Sonny is trying to apologize and provide an excuse for himself at the same time. It’s pretty common. I once had a friend who, on the rare occasions when he would be late to a meeting, would say, “I’m terribly sorry that I am just a little bit late.” You see why that doesn’t work, right?
Sonny didn’t “say the right things” when Ali told him he was the father of the baby she was going to have. And what are the right things? Oh, “wondering what color to paint the baby’s room.” Really? Sonny says he’s never been “one of those Home Depot dads who make the rest of us look like assholes” Ali give him a really good look at that point. It’s not warm and tender, but there’s no anger in it, which is what I was expecting. What I wasn’t expecting is the line, “Those guys are not why you look like an asshole.”
I laughed out loud, thank you Max Eastman. I’ve seen situations like that in movies a lot of times, just as you have. The woman tries to reassure the man that it doesn’t really matter or she expresses her anger at him that he really screwed it up this time. A was already expecting either of those. I wasn’t expecting what I got and I liked it a lot.
The next of the Sonny and Ali moments comes a little later when Sonny takes Ali by the arm and heads for the storage closet again—the same one. “Oh no,” she ways, in the perfect self-parody, “Not back in there.” She’s not saying it to Sonny. She’s saying it to the audience. It’s almost an aside. She steps out of her character to deliver that line.
And finally, the Sonny and Ali moment that, to me, actually meant something. They have been having, as I have said, a low-grade lovers’ quarrel. And on draft day, too. “I know,” says Ali, “Shit timing.” But there is more to the relationship than the lovers’ quarrel. They are colleagues who work together in Cleveland. They both love football. They both love the Cleveland Browns.
So…in addition to their intimacy, (and I’m not talking just about the sexual relationship) they have a collegiality to fall back on. That’s a very good thing to have. There are good theoretical grounds for saying that and I have, myself, very good experiential grounds for saying it.
Sonny comes into her office to talk about draft day difficulties. This is what that looks like. He thinks he is going to have a hard time getting Ali away from her lover’s grievances. I would think that too, but that’ not what happens. Sonny says, “Could we talk football, just football, for fifteen seconds?” Ali leans back in her chair and says, “We can always talk football.”
A surprise, another one, for me. Not playing “the tiffed lover,” but the football colleague. And not just for the moment. Ali offers collegiality as a permanent part of the relationship, no matter what else is going on. That’s how she saw the relationship. Football for sure; other things…we’ll see.
And I liked it. You’ll notice that I have stayed well short of recommending the movie. On the other hand, these are things that I have liked a lot and I will keep watching it, now and then, just to enjoy them again.