Sam Rockwell might just be one of the most consistent actors of his generation, delivering solid work for the better part of the last decade with little recognition to show for it. But while his performance in “The Winning Season” can hardly be considered a career best, the film is a lot better because of his involvement. After all, most underdog sports movies rarely aspire to more than just crowd-pleaser status, and though the story is as predictable as they come – a washed out basketball prospect (Rockwell) is given a second chance at life when he’s offered the coaching job for a girls’ high school team – it does its best to avoid the typical genre clichés and offer something beyond those schmaltzy, inspirational moments.
That’s not to say that the film is entirely successful, but director James C. Strouse keeps those moments to a bare minimum, focusing less on the basketball team and more on the man in charge. It’s a lot like “Hoosiers” in spirit, but hardly a classic in the making. Still, Rockwell is always a joy to watch, and he’s surrounded by a great supporting cast (including Emma Roberts, Rob Corddry, and the ever-reliable Margo Martindale), so unless you’re just sick of the genre as a whole, there’s no reason you won’t enjoy “The Winning Season” for the piece of feel-good entertainment that it is.