One on One (1977)

4 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“One on One” is a sports film that is utterly predictable, but has its heart in the right place. It’s a feel-good comedy that is quite engaging, getting past the clichés seen in most sport movies. If the story of a small-town jock making it into a big-city university and hoping to win the girl of his dreams sounds familiar, it basically is. It’s a reliable formula that audiences are interested in. Audiences can guess (and mostly guess correctly) who will the big game at the end of s sports film, but it’s the journey that leads up to it that really matters most. “One on One” is a good movie—it’s well-acted, funny, and has a good sense of its environment, particularly when the environment is a basketball court.

Robby Benson, who co-wrote the screenplay at age 21 with his father, portrays the protagonist, a small-town, high school basketball player named Henry Steele. He’s a shy, naïve teenage boy with wide eyes, certain gullibility, good nature, and, of course, great skills in basketball. He’s only 5 feet 10 inches, but the coach from a big university thinks he could use him. The coach grants him a scholarship (and a new car), which Henry accepts.

Henry is welcomed into the system and is given a tutor, an alumnus big brother, and a spot on the team. His tutor is a cute young woman named Janet, played by Annette O’Toole with great appeal. In this film, O’Toole shows a remarkable screen presence and an appealing personality so that when Henry surely falls in love with her midway through the film, we don’t doubt it. Their scenes are the best thing about “One on One.” They’re played with soft humor and genuine sweetness. At first, this naïve kid doesn’t know how to feel around this cute grad student. But the next time they meet for a tutoring session, he impresses her—she says that he’s the first jock she’s met that has read “Moby Dick.”

Then later in the film, Janet breaks up with her boyfriend—a bearded professor for whom she’s a teaching assistant—and gives Henry support off the court. As their relationship develops, she even asks him to move in with her. (I love how Henry silently mouths, “Wow!,” after being asked to move in with this gorgeous grad student,)

But there’s a problem—Henry, who started out playing well on the team, is playing lousily and it becomes revealed that that’s because he’s constantly thinking of Janet. At one point, his friend helps him by taking him to a party—this doesn’t go well and it leads to the coach’s secretary (Gail Strickland, very funny) making a pass at Henry…in a very big way, let’s just leave it that. Also, the same friend gives Henry some speed to make him play basketball with manic energy.

This leads to the coach (G.D. Spradlin) into believing he’s made a mistake in granting this kid a four-year sports scholarship. He asks Henry to give up the scholarship. Henry refuses, so the coach does many things to humiliate/hurt him. What do you call a guy like this, without typing a certain seven-letter word for “jerk?” Well, believe me—“jerk” isn’t enough to a guy as despicable as is portrayed in this film.

All I’ve mentioned is handled well. As predictable as this film can be, particularly with the final climax involving the big game, “One on One” is still sweet and funny. Robby Benson is likable in the main role, Annette O’Toole is engaging, and on top of this, the film’s message about not giving up isn’t thrown in your face. “One on One” is a nicely-done feel-good movie.

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