Seeking a Win for the End of the World
Directed By: Barry Odom
Connor Bazelak Taylor Powell, Nick Bolton, Larry Rountree III, Barrett Banister
Synopsis: When Missouri finds out its season is ending, it seeks to go out on a high note, leading to a mostly boring, but ultimately worthwhile, conclusion.
Sometimes a good ending can cover for a multitude of mistakes. Sometimes it can’t. And sometimes it’s barely enough to get the job done.
The 2019 season was one of peaks and valleys for director Barry Odom... well, one peak and one valley to be exact. After running his win streak at the box office to five in September, Odom delivered five duds in a row, causing many to question whether or not Columbia executives would sign him on for another 12 pictures. Due to a legal snafu, Odom’s 13th picture option wasn’t available to pick up, making the production in Little Rock Odom’s final chance to prove he can still put butts in the seats. And while it’s not a total success, Seeking a Win for the End of the World somehow manages — through boredom, through sloppiness, through sheer lack of will — to find success by the end.
Following the exploits of third-string quarterback Connor Bazelak (replaced midway through the film by understudy Taylor Powell), the film watches the cast amble around and try to find themselves as the world collapses around them. And while there’s no way to eventually stop the collapse, there’s an odd sort of catharsis in the characters finding acceptance for what they are — and still being able to succeed in spite of their flaws.
Much of the success of the film can be tied up in the dual performances of Bazelak and Powell. True, the switch from one to the other kills a lot of the momentum the film has in the early goings, but Powell does admirably in finding his groove after a few shaky scenes early on. It helps that Larry Rountree recaptures some of his old magic to prop Powell up in some of the less certain moments.
It helps even more that Powell (and to some degree Bazelak) are able to unearth a burgeoning star in Barrett Banister. Spending most of his career as an extra, Banister has acquitted himself well in limited spotlight this year, and is given the chance to do much more here. It’s not that he’s a scene-stealer by any means, but Banister acts as something between a glue guy and a full-fledged supporting star — able to hold a scene together while still making someone else look good.
It’s not as if the newfound successes completely make up for the continuing failures, though. Much of this crew’s cold streak has been defined by sloppiness in details and execution, and Seeking a Win doesn’t avoid those issues. The chemistry that once defined both Ryan Walters’ and Derek Dooley’s units doesn’t seem to exist anymore, replaced instead by an assortment of talented, if unorganized, individual performers. Breakdowns in the script lead to big lapses in story, and many the cast’s headliners (Albert Okwuegbunam, Johnathon Johnson, Jalen Knox, DeMarkus Acy) are all missing in action or off screen due to injuries in production. It’s not that backup performers can’t get the job done — as noted before, the job does in fact get done here — but the ceiling is lowered significantly.
Good direction can make up for a lot of these deficiencies, but Odom’s direction lacks a lot of the creative fire that it possesses in his best work. One of his strengths has always been the ability to get the most out of his cast and crew when the material seems doomed to failure. However, much like the five-picture losing streak he’s been on, Odom’s worst tendencies show themselves in spades here — lack of narrative or performative focus, inconsistent tone and aesthetics that are less than pleasing (to put it kindly).
So while it’s impossible to condemn completely, Seeking a Win for the End of the World ends up as much of a mixed bag as you can possibly get. The end may be worth the wait, but that’s all a matter of opinion. And in the end, with the announcement that Mizzou Studios will look for another director to helm their productions, it still wasn’t enough to please everyone it needed to.