Chronologically, this is the last of the Andy Lawrence DCOMs to date. It is directed by Stuart Gillard and features a roster of writers including one of my favorites, Stu Krieger! Going to the Mat is also the only Disney Channel Original Movie to focus on blind characters. Lawrence plays Jace Newfield, a New York City kid who has to move to a small town in the Midwest with his family. (I forgot that this movie opens with the sound of a giant pipe organ.) Jace is a musician who loves to tear it up on the drumset, so of course he joins band class at his new school. His teacher Mr. Wyatt, played by Wayne Brady, is blind like Jace.
Jace and the popular guys don’t exactly hit it off. They ridicule him with awful jokes, and Jace makes fun of them for being country kids. He even calls John “John-Boy,” getting a nice reference to The Waltons in there. Ironically, Jace and John wind up having a symbiotic relationship. The wrestling coach’s daughter, Mary Beth, has been assigned to help Jace get acclimated at school. Mary Beth encourages Jace to join the wrestling team, and he decides to go for it. John helps Jace train, and Jace helps John pass Spanish class. The coach is not very nice about Jace’s interest in the team, even though it was his daughter’s idea. She’s one of the sweetest parts of the movie, even pitching in to help Jace with his coordination by giving him dancing lessons. After the dancing, there’s a pretty steamy (but again, sweet) scene where Jace touches her face in the midst of a romantic moment. They even have a full-on kiss later, and that does NOT happen in every DCOM.
In the midst of Jace’s efforts to train for wrestling, he has a heart to heart with his music teacher, Mr. Wyatt. Jace explains that he “wanted to be part of one thing where [his] disability was totally irrelevant,” and that he doesn’t want to be a stereotype by leaning into his musical abilities. Mr. Wyatt levels with Jace and says that life does not get any easier, that he is different. “People listen to the music you make. Play it so that they can see you for who you really are,” the music teacher offers. Jace continues to learn from Mr. Wyatt, who encourages him to be brave in the face of growing up.
I’ll be honest that I am not your resident wrestling expert, but it’s evident that Jace gradually improves in the sport, finally securing a spot for his team in the state championship. And the final scene is the picture of DCOM goodness: Jace and Mary Beth slow-dancing in the gym. While Going to the Mat might not be in my top 10 — it has a lot of competition — I appreciate the film and Lawrence’s performance. From Horse Sense to this one, he’s a real DCOM MVP.