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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Paul Weiland|
scr Peter Straughan, Bridget O'Connor
with Gregg Sulkin, Eddie Marsan, Helena Bonham Carter, Ben Newton, Peter Serafinowicz, Catherine Tate, Stephen Rea, Geraldine Somerville, Richard Katz, David Bark-Jones, Daniel Marks, Stephen Greif
release UK 3.Nov.06
06/UK Universal 1h33
Party time: Sulkin and Bonham Carter
Based on the experiences of director Weiland--it's subtitled "a true-ish story"--this warm comedy at least has the ring of truth in its remarkable tale of childhood expectations and disappointments. But we almost give up waiting for it to emerge from all the misery.
Bernie Reuben (Sulkin) is looking forward to his Bar Mitzvah in the summer of 1966--he'll finally become a man and shake off the humiliations of childhood. He's planning a party even bigger than his older brother (Newton) had, but everything conspires against him. His obsessive-compulsive father (Marsan) and live-wire uncle (Serafinowicz) have serious business troubles, while his mother (Bonham Carter) struggles to hold the family together. Then England's football team confounds predictions and makes it to the World Cup final on the same day. Who'll come to his party now?
It's a terrific story of how the nation's greatest ever sporting achievement spoils a boy's big day, and the script captures this tension, mining humour and pathos from every corner. Weiland directs with a knowing attention to detail, using exciting authentic match footage to recreate the period and craft an entertaining subplot that documents the '66 World Cup. Meanwhile, most of the humour centres on Bernie's profound embarrassment--his own loser image compounded with the mortifying behaviour of his father (including the worst wedding speech ever).
The cast is strong. Sulkin is a terrific discovery, and catches Bernie's lively personality perfectly. Marsan is superb as always, although it takes us a long time to warm to his character (and he seems to become someone else altogether in the final scenes). And this is one of Bonham Carter's most subtle and engaging performances. Alas, most of the others never rise above sketch-comedy characters.
While cheery and enjoyably corny, the film's tone is painfully discomforting. We ache for poor Bernie and his ever-shrinking and increasingly sidelined Bar Mitzvah. His experience is so appalling (and also so easy to identify with) that even the continuous string of jokes isn't quite enough to tip the balance. Instead of a comedy with a subtext of seriousness, this is a heartbreaking drama with humorous asides.
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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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