Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V- 2; L-3; S/N-4. Running time: 1 hour 50 min.

All those who are arrogant are an abomination to the Lord;
be assured, they will not go unpunished…
Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.
It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor
than to divide the spoil with the proud.
Proverbs 16:5, 18-19

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Will Ferrell co-wrote the screenplay with his director Adam McKay to produce this enjoyable satire of NASCAR and race track culture. Like so many of the actor’s films, this one is very uneven in quality, but offers many funny scenes, as well as such themes as friendship, loyalty, and character transformation. Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby certainly needs the latter, being a smug, arrogant, “me, myself and I” type of guy when we first meet him. He and his best friend Cal Naughton, Jr. (John C. Reilly) are members of a pit crew when they are suddenly given the chance to drive a car. Ricky immediately becomes a winning driver, with his friend often coming in No. 2. Indeed, Cal often enables Ricky to win at his own expense. When he asks that if he could win sometimes, Ricky says, “No.” To Ricky speed and winning are everything.

Ricky soon acquires a trophy wife Carley (Leslie Bibb), or, rather, being a NASCAR groupie, she acquires him, and they produce two sons, who too readily adopt the arrogance of their father, making them perhaps the brattiest boys ever to be seen on the screen, even taking into consideration the brats of Nanny McPhee. But Ricky’s fortunes change for the worst due to the appearance of a skillful French driver Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen), every bit as good as he is, and then Ricky suffers a crash and loss of nerve. Carley, saying that she must always be a race driver’s wife, leaves him for the new racetrack winner Cal, and the only work the washed-up racer can find as a driver is delivering pizzas. His long absent, ne-er do well father Reese Bobby (Gary Cole) turns up in his life—Ricky, pining for him, had always left a pair of tickets at the ticket office in the dim hope that his father would turn up one day—and in unexpected ways Ricky re-emerges from his shadow life, this time a chastened winner who knows what real winning is all about.

If it were not for some of the crude sexual humor, this would be a fun film for youth to see and discuss, but it certainly is suitable for young adults looking for more than just escapist entertainment. One amusing scene features what is probably the longest table grace ever to be offered in a film, and the resulting debate as to how to address Jesus actually offers some food for thought.

For Reflection/Discussion

1) Compare this film to other character transformation movies. How does Ricky need to change?

2) What do you think of Ricky praying to “Baby Jesus”? What do you think lies beneath his preference for an infant, rather than an adult Jesus: maybe because a child Jesus is less threatening or demanding? Ricky is a Christian, yet how does his life and values compare to those taught by the adult Jesus?

3) During the debate following Ricky’s table grace Cal says, “I like to think of Jesus as a mischievous badger.” What do you make of this metaphor for Jesus? Or of his comment, “ I like to think of Jesus as an Ice Dancer, dressed in an all-white jumpsuit, and doing an interpretive dance of my life”?

4) The not too bright Cal tells Ricky about a dream, “ I had a dream where Jesus was a dirty old bum, and I was about to sock him in the face because, well he’s a dirty old bum, but then I thought, there’s something special about him…” How is this and Ricky’s reply a faint echo of the parable in the last half of Matthew 25?

5) How is Cal haunted by loyalty to his friend? What do you think of the resolution, both for him and for Ricky? Also that between Ricky and his French rival Jean Girard?

6) Ricky has lived by the motto he heard his drugged out father say during a Career Day appearance, “ ‘If you ain’t first, you’re last.” What does his father tell him when Ricky brings this up years later? How is his father closer to Jesus’ words in Luke 17:33 than he probably realizes? How does the climax of the race show that the filmmakers also might be?