Written by: Nichole Millard & Kathryn Price
Starring: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Madison Pettis, Kyra Sedgwick, Morris Chestnut
Stepping into parenthood willingly and with the knowledge of the responsibility it comes with brings enough pressure on its own. Suddenly being thrust into it becomes its very own nightmare, especially for an individual who never thought they would find themselves in the position. A teaching and humbling experience for all involved, The Game Plan brings just enough cuteness to its story to overshadow its very dated views on masculinity.
Known as “The King” out on the football field, Joe Kingman (Dwayne Johnson) has all of the talent in the world as a quarterback but too much selfishness that has found him never winning the championship. As another season barrels through to the playoffs, Joe receives the surprise of a daughter he never realized he had, Peyton (Madison Pettis) showing up right at his door. Now he needs to tend for her for a month as he tries to win a championship and land a massive sponsorship deal.
Through the way the film markets itself and presents its story, The Game Plan had a particular ceiling it could hit with quality. With a fresh and new Dwayne Johnson just recently entering the acting game and a child actor, this movie could only ever be so good and with its limitations, it manages to hit the right spots of teaching Joe Kingman a lesson as well as being cute. Those are the two points it needed to hit and it did, which allows it to be a mild success even with the large deficiencies it has. It speaks to the humbling nature of parenthood and how it can change a man with the largest ego into quite the teddy bear.
This premise, of course, falls within a genre of films where a big hulking man gets a softer side when looking after a small girl. A large juxtaposition in size but an emotional connection to draw them level. If you’re a large hulking man in Hollywood and have not been in a film of this type, are you even really a large hulking man? That’s the real question and Dwayne Johnson knew he needed to lock this down before becoming the biggest movie star in the world in the 2010s. Much of the usual tropes within this genre include the big hulking man being humbled physically by having it challenged by the smaller girl’s own type of strengths. In this instance, Joe sees the work of being a ballerina as not a real sport initially but when volunteering to help allows him to experience it may be one of the most physically grueling experiences of his life.
One interesting and fairly aggressive lesson taught through this film comes from the idea of masculinity and being a family man. This shift in attitude for Joe develops from when he says a teammate lost his man card for leaving a New Year’s Eve party early to spend it with family. A bizarre take that feels very dated but one that certainly exists out in the world. This gets flipped on its head for Joe when he becomes a more involved father. He faces emasculation for things like owning an SUV instead of a sports car or actually engaging with his daughter. An attitude that seems harsh but he deserves for holding the exact same beliefs. It all comes as part of the lesson for Joe as he learns to be more generous with himself but also with others around him.
The aspects hindering this film are what one would expect, which includes some pretty shoddy acting by the entire cast. Dwayne Johnson was certainly in the process of getting better but the MVP turned out to be Kyra Sedgwick as Joe’s agent. She has a bit of viciousness that makes the character partly an antagonist to Peyton as she helps in Joe’s lesson of humility. All she sees are dollar signs for Joe’s future as an agent should but she remains part of a past that has allowed Joe to be incredibly selfish and arrogant to a fault. Not to say Sedgwick is giving a great performance but she’s definitely having a ball with playing this type of character.
Cuteness remains the vital component to make this movie work and the chemistry between Dwayne Johnson and Madison Pettis elevates the film as they both learn from each other amongst plenty of the hijinx. Sure, this film has its pitfalls as one could anticipate, but it also contains a handful of fun sequences and a good lesson in humility Joe Kingman certainly needed in his life in order to grow.