Pop quiz time: Which of these cliché sports movie lines does not appear in the new rugby-centric inspirational drama “The Nomads?”
1. “This is a hard game. That’s why it’s worth playing.”
2. “The first person to raise their fist to anyone is the one who loses.”
3. “It’s not about falling. It’s about how quickly you get back up.”
4. “Failure is your teacher.”
This is, of course, a trick question, because every single one of these lines appears throughout “Nomads.” The film may be “based on a true story,” but it’s written by someone whose idea of reality seems to come only from middling “Rocky” sequels and Wikipedia’s list of sports clichés.
Consider, for example, that I am able to write a synopsis of “The Nomads” using only the clichés from that Wikipedia list.
Yes, there is a down and out coach (Tika Sumpter’s Cassey “Mac” MacNamara) who is offered one last shot at redemption by founding and co-coaching a rugby team at a Philadelphia high school. Yes, the coaches (including Mac and Tate Donovan’s Mark Nolin) give emotional speeches to inspire their team. Yes, the players overcome race relations and gang violence and are brought together as a team. Yes, the opposing teams are larger, better dressed and better equipped but somehow manage to lose to the Nomads time and again. Yes, a tragic injury provides the team and coaches with the motivation to win.
I even spotted a few clichés not on the Wikipedia list while watching “The Nomads.” Mac, for example, has a strained relationship with her mother that is neatly resolved by the end of the film. She is also offered another job that she considers briefly before deciding to be loyal to her team.
“The Nomads” is, ostensibly, based on the true story of the North Philly Nomads, but, as far as I can tell, director Brandon Eric Kamin plays pretty loose with the facts. Mac is not a real person, for example, and neither is Nolin. The players are also fictionalized, as is the vicious, and oh-so-cliché, gangster antagonist named Ice.
There is at least one nugget of truth in the script by Tara Miele – the school district of Philadelphia did indeed face a $1.35 billion deficit in 2013, which led to the closing of 23 schools. But this sobering fact is just used as a launching pad for the sports clichés.
Miele has only had a handful of writing credits over the past two decades, and it’s easy to understand why after watching “The Nomads.” While screenwriters are often encouraged to be voracious movie watchers, you kind of wish that somebody involved with “The Nomads” had encouraged her to turn off the “Rocky” re-runs and interact with a real person once in a while.
Director Kamin is just as inexperienced as Miele- this is his first feature- but he does solid if unexceptional work. Like the script, his direction is nothing special, but it’s also good enough that I imagine he will be offered better and bigger projects.
If anybody rises above the material, it’s Sumpter and Donovan, two understated and empathetic actors who find the humanity in characters that are mere sketches on the page. They’re clearly slumming, but they also manage to elevate “The Nomads” (rated TV-14) above Hallmark Christmas Movie quality. Barely.
The “high schoolers,” who are clearly played by 20-somethings, are as thinly drawn as the adults. The cast, aside from Sumpter and Donovan, is comprised entirely of no-name performers, none of whom are likely to have much of a future.
Miele and Kamin never take the time to develop the characters’ relationships – or to even explain the rules of rugby.
“The more you explain, the worse it sounds,” Mac says of the sport.
The same goes for the film actually.
About the author
Stephen Dow is an award-winning journalist with a passion for film – not just consuming it, but thoughtfully and actively engaging with it. He believes that these modern myths have a lot to tell us about our world and ourselves. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.