Grade: BRudy (1993)

Director: David Anspaugh

Stars: Sean Astin, Jon Favreau, Ned Beatty, Charles Dutton

Release Company: Tri-Star

MPAA Rating: PG

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Anspaugh: Rudy


Aerial View of a Football Stadium, Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, Indiana, USA
Aerial View of a Football Stadium, Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, Indiana, USA
Panoramic Images,...
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I've watched Rudy as a guilty pleasure numerous times since its 1993 release. I realize that it's technically an average movie that plays on typical sports cliches and manipulates the heartstrings as much as any sports movie that comes to mind. I still enjoy it though, because it's not really a pure sports movie. It's about the average guy that has an impossible dream.

Just getting this movie made fulfilled a dream that the real Rudy Ruettiger had. Even though the Internet Movie Database doesn't give him any credits, his persistent desire to get this film made is behind the entire project. Imagine knocking on Hollywood producers' doors with this crazy idea of telling the story of a Notre Dame football player who played for just one play at the end of a game. Then imagine convincing a screenwriter to pen the story when the screenwriter was a Purdue man who hated Notre Dame and swore he’d never write another Indiana sports movie after writing Hoosiers. Then imagine convincing Notre Dame University to allow on campus filming of this football story when they had turned down every single other proposal for filming on campus since The Knute Rockne Story in 1939.

That’s what the real Rudy Ruettiger did. And he did this with essentially no money. All he had was an idea and a dream. I've heard him tell this story two times now, as Ruettiger has now hit the motivational speaker circuit after the movie's release and has written a book called Rudy's Rules. He may not be the most polished speaker you've ever heard, but there is no doubt that this is a guy who will run through brick walls while chasing a dream.

And that's what Rudy is about. It's also something that most everyone can relate to because I believe that there's some Rudy in all of us. There's some dream that we either had or continue to strive for, and this film demonstrates a pattern for achieving it.

The pattern sounds like a success formula that you can read in countless business books:

Have a dream
Find mentors
Set goals
Make a plan and stick to it despite the obstacles
Continue to reinforce your dream by having close contact with it
Enjoy the journey
Never, never, never, never quit!
This could be a rather dry formula, but Rudy makes the formula concrete and brings it to life enjoyably through a competent script and through an effective ensemble cast, highlighted by Sean Astin as Rudy and Charles Dutton as Fortune, the outwardly gruff janitor with the heart of gold.

Based on Ruettiger's true life story, Rudy is the kid who never does well in school but works extra hard at football, leading his high school team in tackles despite being one of its smallest players. Growing up as a Catholic in the industrial city of Joliet, Illinois, Rudy's one dream is to one day play football for Notre Dame. This appears to be nothing more than a pipe dream at first because Rudy has dyslexia, and he would have difficulty even making a community college football team.

At home almost no one supports him with this dream—his father (Ned Beatty) and brother (Scott Benjaminson) make light of it, his girlfriend (Lili Taylor) only wants to settle down and get married, and his history teacher thinks that it’s ridiculous. Only Rudy's friend Pete (Christopher Reed) has ever believed in him since they were small boys listening to a Knute Rockne locker room recording to their post high school years in the steel plant when Pete presents Rudy with a Notre Dame jacket that “he was born to wear.”

Life could have continued with Rudy fantasizing about what “could have been” until Pete dies in a factory accident. Suddenly, Rudy embarks seriously on his quest and takes off for South Bend, Indiana. As expected, the road will not be easy, but Rudy does find a group of people to help him achieve his goal. Father Cavenaugh (Robert Prosky) supplies wisdom and connections to the local junior college, D-Bob (Jon Favreau) provides the necessary one-on-one tutoring, and Fortune supplies the occasional kick in the butt that Rudy needs to keep himself on track. Even Coach Ara Parsegian, played by the late Jason Miller supplies some support without resorting to flashing back to his Exorcist role and throwing holy water on Rudy.

From the opening scenes where we hear young Rudy declare that he's going to play football for Notre Dame, we know the eventual outcome. Still, the journey and buildup pay off big time and never fail to bring a lump in my throat and cause a few tears to well up in my eyes. But there's a bigger story that you'll see in the credits that you may not anticipate. Be sure to read them closely and you'll see the larger purpose behind making this film, and it's a whole lot bigger than the idea of running out on that field for one play.

The main reason that Rudy works so well is that it’s actually based on a real life story and is relatable. Few of us are given the physique and skills that it takes to compete in athletics at a major university, much less a legendary football factory like Notre Dame. But each one of us is a “Rudy” in one form or another; thus, we can all place ourselves in Rudy's shoes. The screenwriter Angelo Pizzo basically takes an ordinary man’s life and turns it into an everyman's extraordinary drama by adding just a few embellishments, but essentially this is the true story of a determined and focussed young man.

While the acting doesn't demonstrate greatness, Astin has a naivete that engages us as he pursues his quest and many of the supporting characters supply necessary content. My favorite is the head groundskeeper, Fortune, who shakes some reality into Rudy just as he’s about to give up on his dream with this advice:
“You're five foot nothin', 100 and nothin', and you have nearly a speck of athletic ability. And you hung in there with the best college football team in the land for two years. And you're getting a degree from the University of Notre Dame. In this life, you don't have to prove nothin' to nobody but yourself.”
Perhaps that's why I love this movie, and why my high school students appeciated it so. You don't have to be a jock or a football player to relate to this movie--Rudy certainly wasn't much of a football player. But if you have a desire to succeed at anything, and dream of things that even your own friends and family think crazy, this film provides hope because we see a real person persevere and succeed.

As Rudy's friend Pete says, “It's dreams that make life tolerable.” And despite its predictable denouement and expected schmaltz, Rudy continues to make life seem a little better.

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