The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.
Director: David Anspaugh
Writer: Angelo Pizzo
Starring: Sean Astin, Jon Favreau, Ned Beatty
Running Time: 114 minutes
When it comes to inspirational films, Rudy has a surefire winning formula. It’s based on a true story, it involves a massive underdog, and it’s about someone who refuses to stop following his dreams. Football is at the heart of the story, but it’s the type of feel good flick that can appeal to anyone.
The eponymous Rudy is actually Daniel Ruettiger (Sean Astin), a lifelong Notre Dame fan who spent his formative years growing up in Joliet, Illinois. Despite being a small kid, he became obsessed with football and had dreams of one day playing for Notre Dame. It wasn’t just his size that went against him either; his teacher flat out told him that we was too dumb to get into the university. His grades weren’t up too snuff, and on top of that his family simply didn’t have the money. For now, Rudy’s dreams were going to have to be put on hold.
During the next four years after graduating high school, Rudy works at the same local steel mill as his father. It’s a decent enough job and he has a beautiful girlfriend who is ready to start a family, but that nagging dream of his just isn’t going away. It isn’t until his best friend is killed in a horrific mill accident that he basically decides enough is enough. He packs his bags, loses his girlfriend, and moves to South Bend.
Keep in mind that he is 22 years old at this point, hasn’t played football since high school, and his past grades could barely get him into community college. Yet he is nothing if not persistent. He gets accepted to nearby Holy Cross and sticks around year-after-year in hopes of getting accepted into Notre Dame. He even weasels his way into a groundskeeping job at the football stadium. His supervisor, Fortune (Charles S. Dutton), has no problem telling it like it is:
“You’re five foot nothin’, a hundred and nothin’ and hardly have a speck of athletic ability.”
Still, Rudy persists, and if you’ve seen the poster you know exactly what happens.
The fact that Rudy is able to even get himself in this position is remarkable when considering his age. The idea of going to college several years after high school is intimidating enough, but to get on a powerhouse football team like Notre Dame just sounds like a ludicrous fantasy. But this actually happened, and when the film’s triumphant climax hits, it’s hard not to get choked up.
The film’s emotional power is brought on by Sean Astin’s stellar, enthusiastic performance. Rudy is stubborn, but he has an infectious and extremely positive attitude, and his work ethic is second to none. It’s these characteristics that make Rudy stand out during training camp, even as he still overcomes obstacles due to his size and age.
There are other notable characters in the film, such as Rudy’s Holy Cross tutor, D-Bob (Jon Favreau, in his first acting role), and his even more pigheaded father (Ned Beatty), but all of them take a backseat to our pint-sized hero. While at times Rudy may feel too clichéd, it knows how to strike all the right chords, and it has the ability to provide a tremendous inspirational boost. And who doesn’t need a bit of inspiration now and then?