Radio Nowhere: A Touching Message Lost in Translation

Nathan Hilditch
Nathan Hilditch
Nathan Hilditch
Contributor

People will remember 2003 for many things, George Bush gave his infamous ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech and 50 Cent released ‘In Da Club’. But one thing that is not so fondly recalled is a would-be Oscar nomination Radio.

Radio was met with a predominantly negative critical response that the filmmakers weren’t expecting. The film suffers from a poor screenplay that is overly despondent and sentimental. The heartwarming true story is handled very heavy-handedly making it borderline offensive as it attempts to profiteer off mental disabilities.

Add to that some cringeworthy bullying and a villainous father character straight out of Footloose and the issue is apparent.

That’s not to say that the movie isn’t touching, though, and Cuba Gooding Jr does give a moving performance. The actor was simultaneously nominated for a Golden Raspberry and a NAACP Image Award for his performance. Whilst Cuba Gooding received a mixed response, his performance definitely had heart, which struck a chord for many.

James ‘Radio’ Kennedy

The story centres around James ‘Radio’ Kennedy a mentally challenged young football fan. Radio spent most of his time solitarily wandering around listening to his radio, which is where he got the nickname. An outcast within the town of Anderson, South Carolina, Radio found a home in football.

The film follows Radio’s integration into his school’s football team, after initially being bullied by the players. The coach takes Radio under his wing and begins inviting him to practice to help coach the team. Some of the parents and fans of the team disapprove of the coaches decision as the team’s form suffers.

At the end of the season Radio also becomes involved helping to coach the school basketball team. The school board expressed concern, attempting to expel Radio, as this was 1977 and that was deemed an appropriate response to treating mental disabilities.

Against the odds Radio makes friends within the team and continues to play a vital part in coaching both basketball and football.

Cuba’s Good Performance

Whilst Cuba Gooding Jr isn’t quite on par with Dustin Hoffman’s ‘Rain Man’, it is a touching performance. The character also suffers from some poor dialogue in patches but Cuba really sells it in the silent sections.

For a long time Radio doesn’t really speak to anyone, a natural defence he reverts back to when he is unsure. It’s in these silent moments where we can really associate with the raw emotions of the character.

The physicality Cuba brings to the role is fully committed and is a brilliant supporting element to the performance. When the team don’t take Radio on the bus with them, it’s the pain on Radio’s face and the fact he says nothing that delivers the impact. It’s a truly heartbreaking scene as Radio can’t understand why he’s no longer included, contributing to his loss for words.

Radio takes to the home football field to cheer on and play out the entire game by himself. It’s a difficult scene to carry but Cuba puts in another committed physical performance of a world that is entirely Radio’s own. It’s a similar story when ‘generic movie bully’ hands Radio his own letterman jacket towards the end. Cuba captures the awkwardness in the character with the joy of finally being accepted into a world he loves.

Listening To Radio

There is a lot to learn from Radio, the spirit of both the character and the movie show the true power of sport. It’s the passion that transcends mental and physical barriers, allowing Radio to find his place in the world. It doesn’t matter what the sport is, or who the fan is, in the moment, there is a sense of belonging.

You only have to look as far as Syria’s soccer team’s near fairytale run to the upcoming 2018 World Cup. The idea of being a part of something bigger than oneself knows no limits; Cuba Gooding Jr delivers an honest portrayal of any sports fan aside from any mental disabilities. This is the true beauty of the film, if you look beyond the field, you’ll see it’s more than just a game. Not just to Radio but to everyone and he eventually finds acceptance in that. Maybe you have to be a diehard fan to appreciate what Cuba Gooding Jr gives to the role.

Today

James Kennedy remains at T.L. Hanna to this day, where he still coaches basketball and football. He was recently inducted into the school’s hall of fame.

It’s not going to be the best movie you’ll see all year but it’s a touching tale that deserves better than the reception it received.

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