I remember seeing Cool Runnings at Cinema 59, the independent movie theater just down the street from where I grew up in Spring Valley, NY. I walked there to meet my friend Evan and his cousin, who had come in from Ohio. I remember thinking it was a fun, lighthearted Disney affair, based on a true story about a Jamaican bobsled team. But, as I have delved into portrayals of singles in the cinema, I realize this is a pro-single flick.
It is a formula film – generally. After an accident that causes him to miss his chance at running in the 1988 Summer Olympics, Derice Bannock, a talented sprinter, seeks out a legendary bobsledder, Irving Blitzer, to teach him how to bobsled in order to qualify for the upcoming Winter Olympics. He’s joined by his best friend Sanka Coffie, a pushcart driver and all-around clown; Junior Bevil, a wealthy young man dominated by his father; and Yul Brynner, a cantankerous tough guy.
The movie mostly follows a formula and has familiar tropes we’ve seen in these sports movies. The team is hapless at first, but gradually gets better, as seen through 90s-style montage, adorned by reggae tunes; Junior’s father won’t let him compete, but after he gains enough confidence to stand up to him, he’s on board; the East German team heckles them throughout their stay at the Olympics, but at the end, their captain shakes Derice’s hand in a show of respect; Yul softens toward Junior, whom he had resented for causing the accident that disqualified him and Derice from the Summer games; Irving has a sordid past and is need of redemption.
The movie deviates from the formula on two counts: first, the Jamaicans don’t win the tournament, as most movies have our protagonists do. After their rickety sled crashes on the path, they carry their sled toward the finish line while the crowd encourages them by clapping slowly.
And, of course, no romantic subplot. This is helped by the fact that Derice already has a girlfriend before the team starts their journey. But none of the others do, and they don’t couple up at the end, which is a true deviation from this kind of Disney fare (Sanka has a flirtation with a Canadian cowgirl at a bar, but he ditches her to help his teammates in a fight with the hated East Germans). The coach redeems himself through coaching and standing up for his team, Junior and Yul go through character changes, and Sanka, well, he remains the same lovable goofball at the end, kissing his lucky egg after the final race.
At one point, Blitzer says to Derice, “A gold medal is a wonderful thing. But, if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough it.” I said it in How to be a Happy Bachelor, but the same principle can apply to a romantic relationship for those who do want one.