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dir David Scheinmann
scr Massimiliano Durante, Carmelo Pennisi
prd Manuela Noble, Justin Peyton, Ben Timlett
with Jack Smith, Brian Cox, Natascha McElhone, Toby Stephens, Philip Jackson, Anne Reid, Kate Ashfield, Joshua Dunne, Finlay Preston, Sam Wisniewski, Aine O'Duffy, Raif Clarke
release UK 25.Jul.14
14/UK Trinity 1h36
Son, you've just got to believe: Smith and Cox
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
Based on real events, this British football film is contrived and sentimentalised, but since its heart is in the right place the filmmakers get away with it. Which is essentially the theme of the movie. So even though it's sloppy and relentlessly cute, the story sneaks in a winning goal.
In 1984 Manchester, Georgie (Smith) is a precocious 10-year-old, smart and talented with a football. But his single mum Erica (McElhone) worries about his future, so she leaps at an opportunity for him to attend a posh boarding school. Georgie isn't so thrilled about being interviewed by snooty teacher Farquar (Stephens); he just wants to kick a ball around. Specifically, he's plotting to enter a youth competition with his pals. And when a seemingly random man (Cox) offers to sponsor them, they they have no idea that he's actually Manchester United legend Matt Busby.
Shot with sunny humour and scruffy charm, the film wins the audience over even when it feels corny and contrived. Much of the credit goes to the engaging double-act of Cox and Jackson as old pals who take on this juvenile team. Their interaction is lively and silly, underscored with years of history. McElhone has her moments as well, even if Erica often feels like the standard frazzled parent who doesn't have time to listen to her child. By contrast, Stephens has the thankless role as a comedy snob who drifts from villainy to slapstick.
At the centre, newcomer Smith is strikingly good both on the pitch and in surprisingly potent dramatic moments. Despite his tiny frame, he has terrific presence. The other kids are less-served by the script, but have their own energy. Most come from youth teams around Britain, so the match sequences have a superb sense of chaos about them. These kids play the game simply for the love of it, even when there's something at stake.
Along with Georgie learning a sense of responsibility, there's also a sentimental streak in Matt's attempt to find his own footing and pass skills on to another generation. This leads to some corny monologs about the need for belief on the pitch, as well as sentimentalised Field of Dreams sequences involving Matt's former players. But director Scheinmann just about avoids letting this swamp the film, and the ending is a lovely mixture of youthful exuberance and bittersweet joy.
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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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