Is this It's a Wonderful Life with cleats? Back to the Future on the field? Huddle up, and we'll coach you through it.
As far as Scott Murphy is concerned, he had it all in high school. He was "Mr. Football," the kind of highly skilled natural athlete who could carry a small-town team on his back if he had to. And he had to ... until a couple of linebackers crushed his leg in the last seconds of the state finals.
He didn't have to risk everything the way he did. Hey, he didn't even have to play that last game at all. His college scholarship was in the bag. But that wasn't the way Mr. Football worked. He had to put it all on the line. Every time.
But look what it got him. Twenty years later he's still limping around in a leg brace. Yeah, he loves his wife and kids. Every day, though, seems to bring another bout of bad luck. Another loss. Another failure. In hock up to his eyeballs, he's slowly losing his small-scratch farm to the bank. And his soybean crop, the only thing that might hold them off, was just hit by a late-season frost.
Like George Bailey before him, he's worth more dead than alive, he figures. So in his beat-up truck, exhaust fumes rising through the rusted hole in the cab floor, his mind runs free over all the dismal facts that make up his life. If only he hadn't run that last play. If only he hadn't had to settle down in this backwater burg. If only he could just slide off into the abyss and leave it all behind.
And then he's suddenly a teenager again. The big game is on Friday. Maybe it'll be a wonderful life after all!
It's made very clear that in spite of Scott's feelings of utter hopelessness, he actually has a great many blessings to treasure in his life. When the depressed guy flashes back in time he realizes that he would likely have never met his wife or had the family he so loves if it weren't for his football injury. He also recognizes the rich connections he has had with often overlooked family members and friends.
He gets a new perspective and starts standing up for a nerdy kid he once tormented. In fact, once the scales of resentment fall from his eyes, Scott see the whole town of Coldwater, a rustic place he's hated, as a community of loving and supporting people.
Scott's wife, Macy, is an eternally positive figure. She's always loved Coldwater and talks of how it can feel like "one giant family." When the crops freeze she tries to encourage Scott as best she can. She gives of herself and always chooses to see the good in others. And she's not alone. One of Scott's friends encourages him with, "You'll find a way to win. You always did." When Scott asks his mom if she would still marry his dad if she could do it all over—knowing that their wedding would lead to a divorce, she assures him that she would. And there's a hint in her answer that the reason rests with her son. It's his happiness and well-being that brings her some of her greatest joy.
Coach Hand repeatedly encourages his players to think beyond the football field and carry teamwork and effort over into their day-to-day lives. "I want you to be a man who's good for more than one night a week," he tells Scott. Coach also insists that if Scott or any player skips class or slips in their grades, they won't be playing ball. "The future is just a bunch of what you're doing right now, strung together," he says. He also encourages the kids to "Go home. Tell your parents you love 'em, and get some sleep."
Back in his high school days, Scott's pretty blonde cheerleader girlfriend, Jenny, makes it very evident that she wants to ease his pregame "tension" with a little sex, since her "parents aren't home." He declines. So she climbs up on his lap and kisses him as if to show him what he's missing. Later, she coos in his ear, "After the game, you're mine." Both the younger and older versions of Jenny wear formfitting, leg-revealing outfits.
Young Macy, meanwhile, has a habit of skinny-dipping. Scott and another boy spy of her and her friend with binoculars. And then Scott rushes down to the water to reprimand the girls. They respond by pushing the boys into the water, prompting Scott's babbling buddy to blurt out a line about being naked in the same water as girls. Here's what we see onscreen: The girls stripping down and jumping in (from a distance, in dim lighting and out of focus), and everybody from the shoulders up in the water. Scott wraps a towel around Macy when she emerges from the lake.
Hard-hitting, painful-looking collisions and tackles are on full display in football practice and during games—many aimed at Scott, driving the young athlete into the turf or sending him head over heels. The biggest hit is that leg-shattering tackle Scott endures. We see it early on and then again in super-slow-motion.
The entire premise of Scott going back in time to his high school days is based on him trying to commit suicide by plugging the tailpipe of his truck and sitting inside the cab, waiting for the building carbon monoxide to put him out of his misery.
Crude or Profane Language
Over a dozen exclamations of "h‑‑‑," along with a handful of uses of "d‑‑n." There's one use of "a‑‑." Jesus' name is misused once, and someone says "oh my god!" "Freakin'" stands in for the f-word a time or two. "Balls" is used as a replacement for the idea of "manning up."
Drug and Alcohol Content
As an adult, Scott drives his very drunken friends home after an all-night Jack Daniel's-fueled celebration. As a teen, he grabs a couple beers out of the fridge when sitting down for a chat with his coach. When Coach balks at the idea of Scott drinking, the younger man covers with, "Uh, they're both for you."
Scott's strange behavior as a second-time teen prompts Coach to say, "Son, don't make me start testing for drugs."
Other Negative Elements
Scott's mom references playing the lottery.
Back to the Future might be the first film you think of when it comes to onscreen time-travel exploits. But the idea of making a movie about getting a sci-fi second chance to do something, to correct a mistake or in some other way change the future has been around since about as long as movies have been made. And the end result is very often the same: Our hero realizes that his life is actually much richer than he originally thought, even if nothing at all really changes.
From that perspective, this football fantasy handles its formulaic ball pretty well. There are a couple of fumbles, of course—a few logic whiplashes. And its introduction of attempted suicide and a peppering of foul language will narrow the playing field a bit when it comes to families deciding who should suit up for the trip to the theater and who should stay in the locker room. But just like It's a Wonderful Life, Touchback makes it abundantly clear that you are indeed worth far more alive than dead. To your family. To your friends. To your town.
It does so by pointing out how pain and loss can make us stronger if we let them. If we fight hard enough to find a way through that defensive line. If we open our hearts to the help and love of those around us. Lost opportunities in this movie are merely shoes in the door, keeping bigger option open. We're also passed some pretty emotional moments that praise the love of family, the compassion of friends and the generosity that can come from community. It (merely) uses time travel and football as tools to help us see that we all can confront any adversity in that big game called life.