I didn’t quite know what to expect when I sat down to watch the movie Radio. “It’s Rudy mixed with Forrest Gump”, was the reaction of many people on the internet after watching the movie trailer. I knew also that other films about people handicapped in some way usually have them overcoming some sort of obstacle that seems insurmountable, and it has an inspirational message that usually gets people all teary eyed by the end of the film.
But Radio was different. There is no movie cliché here about the handicapped man that could paint or play football like the trailer would lead you to think. This movie doesn’t even pretend to have much of a story behind it. Instead of all those other things, this is a film built solidly on the themes of love and compassion for one’s fellow man. It’s so refreshing, honest, and heartfelt that it seems like a throwback to simpler times without being trite or naive in any way.
Based on a true story set in the 70s, Ed Harris stars as Harold Jones (known as Coach Jones in the film), football coach and sports director of a small South Carolina high school, who befriends a mentally retarded black man (Cuba Gooding Jr.) after he discovers his football team has cruelly bound and gagged him inside a storage shed. Because of his great love of singing and dancing around the radio, and also because he wouldn’t talk much right after the attack, Coach Jones calls him Radio, and sets out helping him to lead a better life. From here on out, Radio is a fixture on the sidelines of the high school team’s football and basketball games.
Cuba Gooding Jr. brings this character to life (the false buck teeth help) with a staggering amount of raw emotion. He plays Radio like a frightened little lost boy who has been given the greatest chance a boy could ask for – a chance to help out the football team in any way they need. Radio brings the team water, he fetches balls for them, and he cheers for them on the sidelines. The character is truly a wide-eyed innocent, genuinely believable, and may sway over a lot of cynics of so-called “family fare.”
At one point, it is the typical film in one sense – it shows how we can mistreat others different from us. Radio is taunted, teased, and bullied by the football team, and he is thought of as a distraction to the football and the basketball season by a lot of the local fans, and a danger to the kids of the school by people in the community.
I loved what Ed Harris did in this movie. As Coach Jones, he was a kind and compassionate man who was constantly being pushed in one direction or the other, and he stood firm and unwavering in his beliefs of what was right. While being a friend to Radio, and coaching a football team, he was also a loving husband, and a father to a daughter on the cheerleading team. Whenever a problem arose, his daughter becoming jealous of the time he spent with Radio for instance, he tried to do the right thing in correcting the problem. If only every dad behaved this way.
After the show was over, I overheard many people talking about how wonderful the movie was, and how good it made them feel. I can only imagine that if the film wasn’t based on a true story, then film critics would have derided the Coach Jones character for being a cliché, and the Radio character for being too simplistic. I’d like to let you know that there’s nothing the world needs more than love. I want you to know how much I think of the movie Radio. Go watch it if you’re prepared to have your heart grow two sizes in one day.