Welcome to Atlanta A&T University, the fictional HBCU that looks like Clark Atlanta, sounds like North Carolina A&T, and crushes both in the BET Big Southern Classic. If you’ve ever seen a sports movie, the story arc will be familiar: A talented, swaggering new recruit (an ultra-charming Nick Cannon) joins the squad with a lot to learn, only to face adversity and, humbled, eventually become a team player and help his mates earn a hard-fought victory. But the beauty of this Weekly Watch is that it’s not about football, baseball, or even bending it like Beckham. This movie is about marching band!
The 2002 film Drumline (HBO Max) is a gem of a coming-of-age flick, an aspirational but sweet snapshot of college for younger viewers, and a music movie that’s sometimes earnest in its appreciation for the artform at its center yet keeps viewers hooked with thrilling competition scenes. While Drumline does not have the same joke-a-minute pace, Pitch Perfect is the closest analogue in our family’s repertoire; if your crew has worn out the Barden Bellas or you find that film’s humor too crass, this is the movie for y’all.
Like a top-notch dance movie, the band’s choreography left our kids riveted and the grownups nostalgic. (As a lifelong football nonfan, the band was the only saving grace for my many Friday nights spent in the bleachers; and of course the drumline was the star attraction—shout-out to Jennifer Henderson, Nathan Brown, and Hunter Camp, wherever you are!). All four of us were smitten by Cannon, who did much of his own drumming for Drumline and passes the leading-man test with flying colors (though he has built quite a career for himself, we wish he’d emerged as a full-on Hollywood headliner!). An adorable, pre-Hollywoodized Zoe Saldana plays Laila, a dancer in the band and Devon’s love interest. The two stars were nominated for the 2003 MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss, but were bested by Kirsten Dunst and Tobey Maguire (who earned that golden popcorn with a very-thrilling-to-my-teen-eyes upside-down smooch).
With the exception of one twist that genuinely caught our kids off guard, the rest of the plot is comforting team-movie fare—scraps among teammates and roommates, generational divides (do they play the classics or freshen things up with marching-band renditions of club bangers?), accidental mentorship, etc. But what you’ll remember and quite possibly want to rewatch are the performance scenes themselves, which are excellent in every way—though Drumline got pretty good reviews back in the day, it didn’t get enough props for its stylish visuals. The final tiebreaker is breathtaking.
Don’t act like I’m spoiling anything; any sports movie worth its Gatorade ends in a tiebreaker.