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Wayback Wednesday: Drumline (2002)

As badass as marching band is, there’s no way to not look silly in those hats.

I have a very serious question for any of you who attended college or university: Did any of you participate in extracurriculars? Like, sports or band? When I was in university, I literally didn’t do anything. I showed up for class, stayed late on campus getting into shenanigans with my friends, bought dinner from Metro, and promptly took my ass home. I was certainly not giving hours and hours of my time and effort to my school like the students in Drumline (2002). THAT is dedication to your school. My school was lucky if I picked up one of the campus newspapers. And I was a journalism student.

Credit: / 20th Century Fox

Drumline follows Devon Miles, a young drummer who enters the fictional Atlanta A&T University as part of their prolific marching band. Talented yet headstrong, Devon ends up butting heads with Sean Taylor, the rigid and traditional leader of the band’s drum section. Committed to the band, Devon endures rigorous training and performances to help put a fresh spin on the band’s classic routines.

From the start, I had a feeling that I was going to end up getting a kick out of Drumline. An opening performance of “I Believe I Can Fly” played solely on the drums? Hell yes! I guess I never thought much about it before but marching band is cool as Hell. Especially if it’s as badass as this movie makes it out to be. It’s incredibly impressive. Damn. I truly had no idea that being part of a university marching band was as intense and demanding as this movie portrays. It’s like military school! I mean, push-ups? Squats? IN THE RAIN? No ma’am, I think not. That’s where I would have opted out of my scholarship. By the way, is the severity at which this movie portrays marching band a real thing? Or, is it maybe only this serious in America? To be quite frank, I didn’t even know marching bands offered scholarships. Wait, do the band members go to regular classes on top of all the training they’re required to do? Look, I enjoyed watching Drumline, but it forced me to think too hard and for too long on the intricacies of going to school for marching band. To see the commitment and the way that these band members live and breathe for music is inspiring. It makes me think that the screenwriters either were in marching band themselves, or went to schools where it was just as competitive. Speaking of writing though, I think I speak for everyone when I say that what we didn’t need was Sean talking about how drumming is like making love, while he made prolonged eye contact with the college freshmen. That could have been cut. 

Drumline has all the heart and pizazz of any given sports drama but I like that it’s actually about the athletes who are putting on a show while the other athletes are taking a break. It definitely includes all the tropes that you’d expect to find in a competition-based sports drama, but I found it to be so much more eye-opening and interesting. Partly because I’m not much for sports and love music, but also because there was such passion and charisma put into the script and the characters that it’s impossible to resist. It’s also a unique setup for a movie in that you never see the rigour of marching band. Or marching bands in general, to be honest. It’s refreshing to see them portrayed as the dedicated performers they are rather than the stereotype as the nerdy, butt of the joke. I wasn’t expecting to be as invested in this movie as I became, but I was pleasantly surprised. I’d happily watch this movie again. I will say though, I found the treatment of Devon’s dad rather odd. His seemingly deadbeat dad was simultaneously not an issue / never mentioned, and yet him gifting Devon his old mix tapes was a major plot point for Devon helping the band put on a fresh, spectacular show. That’s a weird choice, right? I go back and forth on whether or not I would have liked the dad to have been more involved in the plot.

Drumline was my first time seeing Nick Cannon in a leading role. Before this, I was only familiar with him as an actor who showed up in voice over and cameo roles. His maybe 10 minute performance in Shall We Dance? (2004)? Now that’s cinema. In his first ever significant movie role, Cannon does a solid job as a leading man. As Devon, Cannon gives a charismatic and lively performance that showcases how talented and fun he can be when given the spotlight. As charismatic as Cannon is though, I had trouble believing his romance with Zoe Saldana. I mean, even in her small role as Laila, she exudes such power, strength, and beauty that I have a hard time buying Cannon is in the same league as she is. I’m always surprised to see Saldana randomly pop up in movies from the early 2000s. Sometimes I forget that she was a working actress before Avatar (2009) and Star Trek (2009) made her a huge star. Oh! Let me also just say this, I was thrilled when I saw Jason Weaver! Marcus from Smart Guy (1997 – 1999)! God, I used to LOVE watching reruns of that show.

I don’t know if you would count Drumline as a sports movie. But if you do, then I would absolutely count it as one of the rare sports movies that I actually enjoy. With fantastic direction and solid dynamic performances, Drumline is a winning movie that will have you marching to the same beat. That being said, I feel like the movie as a whole could have been edited down a bit. I’m just saying, two hours is a long time to listen to drumming. 

Have you seen Drumline?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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