Marco Montes (Javier Gutiérrez, ‘Marshland’, ‘Assassin's Creed’) is the assistant coach of the basketball team CB Estudiantes - and a major wanker. Already separated from his wife Sonia (Athenea Mata), he is fired from his job after an altercation with his head coach during a game. Driving drunk, he rams into the back of a police car. Marco is ordered to either spend two years in prison or ninety days of community service, in the form of coaching Los Amigos, a team of people with disabilities. Described as a “group of 20-year-olds who behave as though they are six”, they are looked after by Julio (Juan Margallo).
At first, the news isn’t well received by the protagonist because, as mentioned, he’s a major wanker and looks down upon disabled people in general, referring to them as "subnormals". However, as Marco forges them into a competitive tournament-winning team, he begins to realise that he has a lot to learn from these people. Cue: all of the good vibes.
Director Javier Fesser (‘Camino’) has spent his career making comedies about lovably rogue-ish characters and movies which create large empathy with supposed social outsiders. His fifth film is inspired by Aderes team in Burjassot (Valencia), a team created with people with intellectual disabilities that has won twelve Spanish championships between 1999 and 2014.
It’s standard, crowd-pleasing stuff (replete with a big, climactic game featuring a heavy orchestral score and slow motion action), but it’s execution is energetic and impressively slick, leaning heavily towards laughs rather than relying on maudlin drama.
It’s standard, crowd-pleasing stuff (replete with a big, climactic game featuring a heavy orchestral score and slow motion action), but its execution is energetic and impressively slick, leaning heavily towards laughs rather than relying on maudlin drama. This is a film where the one girl on the team, Collantes (Gloria Ramos), who has Down syndrome, is prone to gaining an advantage by kicking her opponents in the nuts.
Played by actors with mental disabilities, the basketball team members in ‘Champions’ come across as far more emotionally balanced and candid and far less ruthless (aside from some nut-kicking) than the supposedly “normal” figures. The script is more patronising to Marco (Gutiérrez anchors the film with a strong performance) than it is to them.
‘Champions’ provides a lot of light-hearted laughs, but perhaps the film’s most impressive feat is the way it celebrates otherness at the same time as it criticises traditional attitudes to it.