Don Meyer lived 4 separate lifetimes. Successful athlete, coach at David Lipscomb, coach at Northern State, and fundraiser/public speaker. Weave in a tough childhood, a tragic car accident, and fighting cancer, and Meyer had more experiences in 69 years than most of us would have in three times that span.
I was honored enough to know Coach Meyer. Not as well as some, but better than many. Everyone who knew Coach well could fill at least a half hour with stories of his influence, his character, his humor, and his quirks. They can recite his rules. They can rave about his wife Carmen. They can tell you he never wanted to talk about himself. They can tell you he was friends with John Wooden, Pat Summit, and hundreds of other coaches across the country because of the wildly successful summer camps he ran. They can tell you about the phone calls or notes they received from him, which always seemed to come at the perfect time.
Now imagine you are Casey Bond. Bond was a baseball player that reached the AAA level. He got into acting on a bit of a whim, and has been in several major movies, including Moneyball and I Saw the Light. Bond spent the last year of his college career at Lipscomb, but had no idea who Meyer, who had left for Northern by that time, was. An encounter brought them together and they developed a relationship. Bond, who had never produced a movie before, felt compelled to share the story of Coach Meyer with a world in need of positive stories. He set out on his mission!
But where do you begin? How does anyone condense so many incredible experiences and accomplishments into a 90 minute film? With the release of My Many Sons, Bond gives us his answer.
Using a series of narrations, flashbacks, and foreshadowing, director Ralph Portillo peels back layer after layer of a complex man, yet still maintains a mostly linear progression of the story. The basic timeline begins with Coach Meyer’s team winning a National Championship at Lipscomb in 1986 and ends with his retirement from the sideline in Aberdeen in 2010, all while chronicling his various successes, failures, family issues, and professional dilemmas along the way.
No biographical movie succeeds without a strong portrayal by its lead actor. Judge Reinhold is best known for his comedy movies, including Stripes and the Beverly Hills Cop series. I will admit I was leery of the choice when I first heard about it. But like Gary Busey in The Buddy Holly Story, Reinhold delivers a performance that is less imitation and more essence. His Don Meyer is nasty and compassionate, focused and mystified. His Don Meyer wrestles with grey in a world that, to him, is black and white, even when it comes to his family. His Don Meyer struggles to show compassion, and then becomes a fountain of grace. In watching Reinhold’s Don Meyer, the world will understand the complexity of the man who grew to near legendary status.
Casey Bond plays Coach’s son Jerry and puts in a very solid performance. Amy Kay Raymond, who plays Meyer’s wife Carmen, hits all the right notes while playing a very limited number of measures.
My favorite scene involves the day Coach Meyer takes over at Northern. I look forward to hearing from Andy Foster, Sundance Wicks, and Steve Smiley if the scene is true. But if it isn’t, it certainly could be! No one minute sequence in the movie captures the Don Meyer many of us knew better.
One problem. Sports movies have to get the sports part right. There is one major gaffe in this one, and the rest of it, due to budget restrictions I am guessing, gets by. But again, like Reinhold’s performance, the essence is enough.
I know what some in our part of the world may say about this movie. We wanted Bond and screenwriter Carol Miller to tell “our” Don Meyer story. We wanted to see Bob Wachs Arena, not the Northern logo on another gym’s floor. We wanted the world to know the philanthropist Coach became in his final chapter. We want “ESPY”-winning Coach exalted. And those are legitimate feelings. But again, there was so much to tell, and so little money (about 3 to 4 million dollars according to industry sources, which is a pittance in movie circles) to do it with.
So when you watch this film, pretend you did not know who Coach Don Meyer was. Because that is who this movie is targeted toward. Just enjoy a positive message about an amazing man. And if you knew him, revel in the fact that you get to spend a little more time with a man that is missed by so many, and touched so many of us in such an incredible way.