Southern Movie #7: “The Waterboy”

It’s college football season again.

And the only real choice for a Southern movie of the month is 1998’s “The Waterboy.” Chock-full of catch phrases that have become oddball euphemisms in modern American culture, “The Waterboy” takes us to the fringes of Deep Southern culture via the football program at a tiny Louisiana college. Adam Sandler plays Bobby Boucher, a possibly-retarded man in his thirties who lives in the swamps with his mother, played by Kathy Bates. Boucher, who is obsessed with “high-quality H20,” works as the waterboy for the South Central Louisiana University Mud Dogs, coached by long-time loser “Mister Coach Klein,” played by Henry Winkler of “Happy Days” fame. Klein has fallen on hard times, brought on by the trickery of his arch-rival coach, the sinister and cruel Red Beaulieu, played by country music star Jerry Reed.

Everybody loves an underdog story, and Bobby Boucher’s ascendance (from being a no-confidence mama’s boy to a college football star who gets the girl) is egged on by the now-infamous, Cajun-drawled “You can do it!” shouted enthusiastically by Rob Snider’s unnamed character. “The Waterboy” is “Rudy” gone horribly wrong.

We learn early about Bobby Boucher’s emotional traumas, which ultimately lead to his success. He was laughed off the field of the University of Louisiana Cougars – certainly a play on LSU’s Tigers – by Red Beaulieu, and he has been told that his absent father died of dehydration, which explains his obsession with water. As a volunteer for the much-smaller SCLSU Mud Dogs, Boucher is confronted by similar contempt, but this time is told by his meek-and-mild coach to stand up for himself. When Boucher lets his anger loose in a whining, toddler-like charging fit, Coach Klein recognizes a way to end his team’s forty-game losing streak. The emotionally damaged waterboy will become his star linebacker!

And it works. Boucher is a beast! In game after game, opposing offenses are reduced to sniveling and pleading wimps, as Bobby Boucher works out the demons, picturing all of the people who have wronged him. Sometimes wandering aimlessly around the field, slapping his own helmet and talking to himself, the absurdly crazed defender changes his team’s fortunes.

And no wacky Adam Sandler film would be complete without a wacky love affair. In this one, the 1990s version of the femme fatale is chasing Bobby Boucher. Vickie Vallencourt, played by nineties bad-girl Fairuza Balk, is the sexy juvenile delinquent who – for some twisted reason – wants this slow-on-the-draw support staffer. We may not get it, but it’s still pretty funny.

Especially since Mama is having none of it. Mama may declare constantly that “Fooz-ball is the Devil!” but Vickie Vallencourt is worse. Kathy Bates unforgettable overbearing mother is always there to remind her halfwit son of what is evil in the world: education, sports, girls . . . pretty much everything except staying home with his Mama.

Complete with the old Cajun assistant coach who wears overalls and babbles in pidgin and a cross-eyed punch-drunk linebacker, the regular zaniness of Adam Sandler’s 1990s films is kind of an acquired taste: one part ’80s nostalgia, one part twisted personalities, one part silly stoner humor . . . but to this movie, we add football. Where Sandler did a terrible job of reviving Burt Reynolds’ classic role in his 2005 remake of the 1974 football movie, “The Longest Yard,” this football movie is hilarious!

I usually end these “Southern Movie of the Month” posts by discussing the movie’s representations of the Deep South. Not this time. I seriously doubt if Adam Sandler was even trying to be accurate. This madhouse movie is built on buffoonery, elevating stereotypes about Louisiana and Cajuns to absurdist comedy. Don’t bother getting haughty about “The Waterboy,” just enjoy it.

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