If I may explain: a few years ago, my husband and I hauled the kids to my mother in law’s condo in New Hampshire for a week during summer vacation. Being August, It was wet and hot and oppressive, much like wearing the Batsuit around constantly, and there were intermittent thunderstorms, which meant we spent a lot of time in the condo, slapping at mosquito bites and watching movies. My middle stepson was playing flag football that year, and excitedly informed us that his coach considered the 1993 film Rudy to be required watching for all team members. Now, I should mention that I graduated high school in ‘93, also known as America’s Most Unintentionally Hilarious Year. We all knew how pathetic we were in our overall shorts and jean waistbands that rose to damn-near chest level. The theme to my prom, for example, was “WHOOMP! (There it is!)” And we knew better than to give any credence to most of the non-Jurassic Park movies of the time, such as Rudy, Cliffhanger, and basically any Hugh Grant vehicle post-Divine Brown. But, whatever, it was free on VUDU, which should have been enough of a warning, and we had no place to be, so we all piled into the living room to watch Rudy. Big Mistake.
The film opens in the sixties, in bluecollar Illinois, with Rudy Ruettiger, the tiresome youngest of four boys who loves Notre Dame Football in a thinly veiled ploy to receive acceptance from his drunken stereotype of a father, played drunken stereo typically by national treasure Ned Beatty. (All drunks in the nineties were played by either Ned Beatty or Charles Durning, and casting calls consisted mainly of the two of them showing up to audition in their underwear, stinking of gin. They would fall over nothing, proposition a potted plant and then lock themselves angrily in a supply closet. Whomever did it the most naturally got the job.) Little Rudy loves Notre Dame so much he plays recordings of Fighting Irish coach Ara Parseghian’s motivational speeches and makes his dimwitted best friend, Pete, watch him lip-sync and act them out. And the best friend just has to sit there and take it, when all he wanted probably was a nice meat loaf dinner and a few hours away from his own drunken stereotype of a father.
BUT THEN PETE FALLS INTO LAVA AND DIES.
That’s how I remember it, but apparently it was an explosion at the steel mill, where he and Pete had taken jobs with Ned Beatty. Before dying, though, Pete gifts Rudy with a Notre Dame jacket he saved up for for like nine hundred years, and Rudy weeps tears of joy and the rest of his family is like, awesome, now he’ll never shut up about Notre Dame. Anyway, Pete dies and Rudy is inspired to make his dreams come true and not end up dumb and dead like his dumb, dead best friend, so he travels to Indiana and hassles a priest until he gets a scholarship into a nearby college with hopes of getting good enough grades to eventually transfer to Notre Dame. Along the way some bad things happen to him: he’s treated poorly by snobby Notre Dame girl Mary after he low-grade lies to her about being a fellow student, a thing she kind of assumed since he wears that jacket- which by now must smell like if a chili dog grew an ass- everywhere and is constantly fucking hanging around, a groundskeeper played by Charles S. Dutton shakes his head and scowls a lot at him, and, worst of all, he meets a character played by Jon Favreau. The latter, named D-Bob (too easy), inexplicably offers to tutor Rudy in exchange for helping him to meet some hot ladies. Right, because Rudy is such a stud, with his stinking jacket, and his witty rapport about Notre Dame, and the way he stalks the groundskeeper in hopes that he can roll around on the football field like a dog rubbing itself on the carcass of a dead gopher.
Eventually, the rich, snotty Mary, who, like all of us, is concurrently intrigued and repelled by Rudy, finds some fug girl for D-Bob to date and D-Bob in turn helps Rudy overcome his deadly- JESUS, TAKE THE WHEEL- Dyslexia, and Rudy is finally able to wiggle his ass into Notre Dame and the football team as part of some Sad Boy Program. Naturally, new head Coach Dan Devine, who wants to win games and, for some reason, is painted here as the bad guy, is like, Well, shit, you’re a nice kid and all, Rudy, but I run a football team, not a fucking Hotdog on a Stick. You’re too short to be a mascot and too uncoordinated to sell peanuts, and you really weird-out the groundskeeper, but maybe, someday, you might be allowed to actually buy a ticket to a game, if you sit far enough away so that the players don’t have to see you. Then, in a twist that EVERYONE saw coming, the actual good, talented players on the Notre Dame team are like, fuck it, let’s compromise our season and professional careers by going against our coach to get that little bastard into some record books that no one will ever read or care about because, RUDY. That happened. I actually stuck around through the credits, because I was expecting a last scene in which one of the Notre Dame players is like, So, what’s that kid Rudy dying of, anyway? Oh, nothing? And he’s a grown man? So, we just…? Well, what the shit’s he gonna do now, go back to Illinois and drink with Ned Beatty? Jesus, you guys, what the hell was the point of any of this? Charlie? Gomez? Moose? (gives double bird.) Fuck you guys, I’m gonna go watch Maude.
There’s like four fucking women in Rudy. Sherry, the hopeful homeowner; His pie baking mother; Melinda, the rich girl who was mean to him once; and, eventually, the plain faced girl who was just barely not-ugly enough to date Jon Favreau. And that’s what really pushed the bile to the tip of my throat: the fact that my stepson’s coach, a coach to both boys and girls, would recommend this movie, a movie in which a young woman’s greatest dream consists of entering a loveless marriage as a means to own property. And, sure, look- I understand that Rudy, the Rudy that Rudy is named for, doesn’t really come away with any hot shit, being that he works his little ass off for an honorary mention in Notre Dame history as a guy who played one game for five minutes, all in hopes that his drunken father will look up from vomiting in a urinal long enough to slur something that sounds like that’s my boy, but consider the lives of the women in this shit-show. In stark contrast to the men, they are generally not even drawn broadly enough to want anything. Only Sherry, reflected through the dead eyes of Lili Taylor, has passion for one thing, that sad, tiny house, and we still leave the film knowing that she somehow does not deserve it.
For my money, there’s only one movie that girls and boys can watch together and feel the camaraderie that makes up a real squad, and that’s James Cameron’s Aliens. Vasquez. Hicks. Ripley. Hudson. Frost. Bishop. All the men and women and androids of the world coming together to kick some alien ass and to tell Paul Reiser he’s full of shit. Everything else is like Rudy, a weirdly incomplete tale that separates the dreams and goals of boys and girls, honoring one, negating the other. Could it ever be that we want the same thing, the same happiness, the same intergalactic peace? Could it ever be that we both might win? That we both might walk off into the sunset with our smelly Notre Dame jackets strewn over our shoulders, feeling validated and represented, and, nicest of all, part of the same goddamned team?