Rudy: Anspaugh’s Sentimental Underdog Tale, Starring Sean Austin and Lili Taylor

Based on a true story, Rudy is a classic, sentimental underdog tale that embodies the best values of the “American Dream”: individualism, upward mobility, hope, self-esteem, and above all commitment to a vision at all cost. Rudy may be unique in its heartland setting and other details, but the story is universal in its broader values–achieving the impossible, stretching the limits beyond one’s apparent abilities.

A small-town boy from the Midwest, Rudy Ruettiger (Sean Astin) is a product of an Irish-American working-class family. Yet, aspiring above his social class, Rudy’s ambition is to get into the prestigious Notre Dame University and play with its Fighting Irish football team, one of the most time-honored in the U.S.

Written by Angelo Pizzo, the story begins in Joliet, Illinois, in 1960, with Rudy (born Daniel) as a young boy growing up in a large Catholic family. His father and brothers admire the Fighting Irish; they watch every game on television and celebrate the team’s success as if it were their own personal win. But being realistic, Rudy’s gruff father (Ned Beatty) discourages him from even dreaming about attending Notre Dame, a school they believe is only for smart and privileged kids. Rudy’s family wants to protect him from being disappointed and hurt.

All the odds seem to be against Rudy: his grades are poor and he is also mildly dyslexic. Moreover, as a potential athlete, he is very short. At first, Rudy is compliant and goes to work at the steel mill that employs his father and two brothers. However, an industrial accident, in which his best friend is killed, shocks the grief-ridden Rudy and forces him to take a more active part in planning his future life.

Gradually, Rudy realizes that he is endowed with some unique qualities: stubbornness and an enormously strong will power. He is also tired of being told how to live his life by his father, teachers, and down-to-earth fiance (Lili Taylor).

As a movie, Rudy marks a return to Indiana for screenwriter Angelo Pizzo and director David Anspaugh, who collaborated with great success on the l986 acclaimed film Hoosiers, starring Gene Hackman, which also dealt with sports. Pizzo and Anspaugh met in Bloomington, in the l960s, when they were college roommates at Indiana University.