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Movie Review: The 5th Quarter

Andie MacDowell and Aidan Quinn struggle with loss in this overwrought family drama

Andie MacDowell and Aidan Quinn as Maryanne and Steve Abbate in The Fifth Quarter

Andie MacDowell and Aidan Quinn as Maryanne and Steve Abbate in The 5th Quarter. — The 5th Quarter, LLC

Directed by Rick Bieber
Rated PG-13
Runtime: 141 mins.

En español  |  The 5th Quarter doesn’t want you to think. It wants you to feel. Sure, there’s a story: the true tale of how the death of a teenager inspired Wake Forest University’s football team to play its best season ever. But at its big bleeding heart, the movie seeks simply to toggle viewers between bathetic tears and triumphant cheers — with little or no attempt at transitions in-between nor lessons to be learned. It’s like making an exhausting slog up a steep mountain, only to find the summit enveloped in clouds.

Writing about Greek drama, Aristotle called the concept “dramatic catharsis.” Writing about The 5th Quarter, I call it “shameless exploitation.” Admittedly, I didn’t much like The 5th Quarter — I prefer more subtle dramatic currents and ones that serve to address a meaningful subtext. Still, I suspect The 5th Quarter provides precisely the effect it aims for, and that there is a sizable audience looking for just such an emotional outlet.

Andie MacDowell and Aidan Quinn (as appealing a movie couple as you could imagine, by the way) play Maryanne and Steven Abbate. In a series of heartwarming vignettes we meet them and their happy family, all of them deliriously in love with each other. But the more they smile fondly in each other's direction, the more the parents coax their aw-shucks boys into giving them a kiss before they get out of the car, the more we know something truly awful is about to happen.

It does — the family’s middle son, Luke, is killed in a senseless car crash. Most filmmakers would do the expected here: a speeding car, a whirl of trees, and cut to the funeral. But director/writer Rick Bieber isn’t about to spare us the details in-between. There’s Dad getting the horrible phone call, his face melting from smile to incomprehension to dread. There’s the long drive to the accident site, then the frantic ride to the hospital, then the sad gathering of family around the comatose boy’s bed, each family member taking turns to sob and pray. Next comes the doctor telling them it’s time to turn off the ventilator, the family’s resistance and ultimate agreement; then a procession of friends and strangers who file through the hospital room to say their goodbyes. Then comes the woman from the organ-harvesting foundation, and the family has to agonize over that. Finally the family follows the gurney to the operating room, where Luke’s organs will be removed, for yet another set of goodbyes.

Did I say finally? Now comes the funeral, and we sit through what seems to be the whole sad ceremony, complete with a girl at the lectern who relates a long story about how Luke used to tease her. And the clergyman, who gives a stirring memorial extolling the virtues of a character we’ve never really met.

So about this time, a half-hour or so into the movie, I start thinking: “Wait a minute, isn’t this supposed to be about football?” And about 45 minutes in, we do finally see older brother Jon (Ryan Merriman) half-heartedly practicing with his Wake Forest teammates. He’s having trouble focusing, so a friend talks him into seeing a sports motivational expert, who, in a Rocky-inspired montage, helps whip him back into physical and emotional shape.

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