Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 (Review)

Veteran documentary filmmaker Kevin Rafferty looks back to his own undergrad days at Harvard in this surprisingly tepid reexamination of a 40-year-old football game. The director interviews 37 players, nearly all of whom recall the "landmark" game with a

Veteran documentary filmmaker Kevin Rafferty looks back to his own undergrad days at Harvard in this surprisingly tepid reexamination of a 40-year-old football game. The director interviews 37 players, nearly all of whom recall the “landmark” game with a mix of nostalgia and regret, depending on which side of the ball they resided: Yale, a heavy favorite, was ahead by 16 points with 42 seconds left to play before allowing Harvard to tie the game in miraculous fashion.

But this was more than just a football game. Rafferty tries to tie in the tumultuous, culturally revolutionary summer of 1968, which he cites as another difference between the rivals: Yale was largely marked by a bunch of privileged, pro-Vietnam blue-bloods, while anti-war Harvard strove for diversity in its student body and athletic teams, best exemplified in the film by then-Harvard linemen Tommy Lee Jones (a poor boy from Texas whose roommate was Al Gore).

Rafferty’s approach is remarkably straightforward — the film consists entirely of crosscuts between modern-day talking-head shots of the former players with vintage footage of the game. No graphical inserts, stylistic flourishes, outside interviews (though references to then-Yale students Gary Trudeau and Meryl Streep are a welcome addition) or period music, which might have added another layer of ’60s flavor and atmosphere. And while Rafferty’s insular, no-frills approach synchs well with the Ivy League setting, one never gets a sense that the outside world truly impacted the players as much as they or the film might claim. Grade: C


Opens June 5. Check out theaters and show times, see the film's trailer and find nearby bars and restaurants here.
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