Looking for a little feel-good sports comedy (before the season 3 premiere of Ted Lasso)? Hit the court with Woody Harrelson in Champions.

Harrelson stars as Marcus, a minor-league basketball coach with a stubborn streak and a complete disinterest in connecting with his team as people. After a series of missteps, he’s ordered by the court to manage a team of players with intellectual disabilities. 

In addition to Harrelson, Champions also stars Kaitlin Olson, Ernie Hudson, Cheech Marin, Matt Cook, Madison Tevlin, Joshua Felder, Kevin Iannucci, Ashton Gunning, Matthew Von Der Ahe, Tom Sinclair, James Day Keith, Alex Hintz, Casey Metcalfe, and Bradley Edens. The film comes from writer Mark Rizzo and director Bobby Farrelly.

A classic “who’s teaching who” setup

Champions sets us up for an emotional slam dunk from the start. Marcus clearly has talent as a coach – he’s opinionated, he knows his plays. But even though he knows the sport, he doesn’t know people. He doesn’t bother to engage with his team on a personal level; he has no interest, and he doesn’t really see the point.

So when he gets into an argument – and a physical fight – with another coach over a play, he loses his job. We later learn that the reason the head coach wouldn’t follow Marcus’ play was that the player it relied on had recently lost a family member. They wouldn’t be in the right headspace to pull off what was needed on the court – something Marcus couldn’t know, because he doesn’t engage with his players that way.

(L to R) Kevin Iannucci as Johnathan, Kaitlin Olson as Alex, James Day Keith as Benny, and Woody Harrelson as Marcus in director Bobby Farrelly's CHAMPIONS, a Focus Features release. Credit : Shauna Townley/Focus Features

The job loss leads to a drunk driving accident, which in turn leads to Marcus getting sentenced to a community service coaching job. And coaching these players isn’t about coming up with a playbook for scoring big. It’s about bringing them together to really become a team. Essentially, this means we get a classic “who’s teaching who” scenario. Marcus provides the basketball drills and skills; his new team teaches him there are things more important than winning games.

A team of ‘Champions’ to root for

This team of Champions brings a lot to the table. It can be difficult in sports media to give the players enough characterization to feel like you really know them as individuals, not just as a team entity. But even though Champions only dives deeper into a few of the players’ backgrounds, everyone on the team feels very real. 

(L to R) Alex Hintz as Arthur, Casey Metcalfe as Marlon, Matthew von der Ahe as Craig, Ashton Gunning as Cody, Tom Sinclair as Blair, Joshua Felder as Darius, James Day Keith as Benny, Madison Tevlin as Cosentino, Kevin Iannucci as Johnathan, and Bradley Edens as Showtime in director Bobby Farrelly's CHAMPIONS, a Focus Features release. Credit : Courtesy of Focus Features

There’s plenty of big personalities here, from the compassionate and fun-loving Johnny (Iannucci) to the suffer-no-fools Consentino (Tevlin). Cody’s in a band; Craig makes raunchy jokes about his girlfriend; Benny’s dealing with a terrible boss at work; Showtime only shoots baskets behind his head. Everyone has their own skills and quirks, relationships to basketball and to one another, passions and personalities. 

Getting to know the Friends – and seeing them challenge Marcus – really makes the movie. All in all, it’s a predictable journey, but an emotionally satisfying one. Pretty much the definition of feel-good, easy viewing. You may already know where this underdog tale is going, but it won’t stop you from enjoying the game.

Champions poster

Champions premieres in theaters March 10.