SXSW Film Review: The Long Game
Bordertown golf story filled with humanity and Cheech
By Jessi Cape,
12:20PM, Mon. Mar. 13, 2023
Sports dramas can be hit or miss. When you portray real-life humans striving to overcome racially-motivated obstacles, the stakes are even higher.
The world premiere at SXSW of The Long Game successfully balances emotion, humor, and performance to tell the true story of a mentor, a coach, and five high-school boys in the segregated golf world of 1950s Del Rio, TX.
New to town, JB Pena (Jay Hernandez) has aspirations of adding “Country Club member” to his prestigious new school district superintendent role. After his first encounter with the good ol’ boys club, by way of their golf club representative (played by excellent local supporting actor Richard Robichaux), Pena realizes membership may be a pipedream in the small bordertown.
A microcosm of the golf world then, since, and to some degree now, Del Rio’s golf community in 1956 is an all-white wealthapalooza and melanin-rich outsiders (even esteemed residents) are considered no bueno. Dennis Quaid plays retired golf pro Frank Mitchell, Pena’s WWII war buddy, who recommends membership and offers mentorship on how to navigate Del Rio’s murky waters. After a bloody first encounter, Pena discovers a band of Latino teen boys who caddy at the same club and have such admiration for the sport that they built their own golf course in the desert. They’re not half-bad players either, so Pena redirects his energy to help the quintet form the high school’s first golf team.
It’s obvious that Austin-based writer and director Julio Quintana holds this story dear. Aside from co-writing a wonderful script, Quintana cast a behind the scenes trust circle to carry the story, and the film, around the turn. Hernandez and Quaid were both principal cast members in The Rookie; Quaid and Quintana worked together on Blue Miracle, which also starred Jimmy Gonzales who plays the father of squad leader Joe in The Long Game.
If the palpable camaraderie is the bones of the story, the poignant and realistic dialogue is the film’s heartbeat. The Long Game is shot well and sounds good, and has potential on its quest to be a first generation American anthem. By all accounts pretty true, the film is never overly dramatic or saccharine; it’s accessible and brimming with tiny flashbangs of hilarity from Oscar Nunez (The Office) and legendary superhero Cheech Marin.
Had the boys played through to the state championship and lost, the story would be worth telling simply for the allyship of Coach Mitchell, the vision of Coach Pena, and players’ incredible tenacity against severe racial bias in a time and place where embarrassing an all-white Richie Rich could quite literally cost a Mexican American his life. You can, then, imagine what an extra sweet triumph it would be to earn the title. Regardless of the outcome, by keeping the story alive, the boys and their coaches – and The Long Game’s filmmakers – land on the green and support the swings of future Latino golfers.
Narrative Spotlight, World PremiereWed 15, 5:45pm, Rollins Theatre at The Long Center
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