Archive Review: The Bad News Bears (1976) – 3.5/5 Stars

If any of the kids in “The Bad News Bears” were your child, or if you had any acquaintance with a youth sports coach even remotely like Morris Buttermaker, you’d be outraged and embarrassed. At the same time, the film delivers a message that all involved with youth sports probably couldn’t hear enough of. In other words, do as “Bad News Bears” implies, not as it says or does and take the foul language and poor behavior at comedic face value only.

Walter Matthau stars as Buttermaker, an drunken former minor leaguer who coaches a little league team because his job as a pool cleaner isn’t exactly lucrative. His job is to coach the Bears, a group of untalented misfits, most of whom have attitude problems. Basically from Buttermaker and the other adults involved in the league all the way down to the rebel kid, Kelly (Jackie Earle Haley), who tears up the field with his motorcycle, not a character has respect for another. Kids talk back to adults, adults yell at kids — it’s an ugly scene. How “Bears” redeems itself is something of a feat.

You can’t deny “Bears” its heart. Every lesson there is to be learned from youth sports finds its way into this film. At the very beginning the Bears give up 20 runs in the first and forfeit. Quitting and adopting a counter attitude is present from then on. Then there’s the balance between winning and playing the game, something many parents and coaches still lose sight of even today. Despite filling its cast with rotten blonde kids and insensitive adults, “Bears” sneaks this in naturally. The film nearly gets dramatic at times considering the extent to which the disrespect does become a serious part of the story.

So on one hand, you have a little blonde kid saying “Great, we have a team full of (insert racial slurs here) and now a girl!” and then you have examples of good sportsmanship winning out. It’s tough to call “Bears” a family film or a kids film for that reason, but then again, some kids would really benefit from the values. Most of all parents of kids in youth sports need to see this movie as it really speaks at them.

As a comedy, a good chunk of that nastiness earns a good deal of laughs, especially when it involves the innocence of kids rather than the awfulness of the adults. If blurring the line between acceptable behavior in films and comedy is fine by you, “Bears” is as good a sports comedy as any.

3.5/5 Stars

Directed by: Michael Ritchie
Written by: Bill Lancaster
Starring: Walter Matthau, Tatum O’Neal

1 Comment

  1. martin willard says:

    Hi, I played on the 1968 Pomona Elks, coached by Bill Lancaster (son of Burt) who wrote the screenplay. I was the kid who inspired the character of Tanner Boyle; right down to the hair and the napoleon complex. Gary Hadland, my best friend and the shortstop on that team, lived right behind Montview elementary where the baseball field was located. If anyone wants to know about the real team, then ask me.

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