The Beautiful Game

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

The Beautiful Game
dir Thea Sharrock
scr Frank Cottrell Boyce
prd Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin, Colin Farrell, Ben Knight, Anita Overland
with Micheal Ward, Bill Nighy, Susan Wokoma, Valeria Golino, Kit Young, Sheyi Cole, Cristina Rodlo, Robin Nazari, Callum Scott Howells, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Aoi Okuyama, Sian Reese-Williams
release UK/US 29.Mar.24
24/UK Film4 2h05

wokoma golino howells

Is it streaming?

cole, ward, nighy and young
Inspired by real events, this warm and witty British football drama is packed with engaging characters and situations, nicely directed by Thea Sharrock. While the bright, sometimes silly atmosphere assures us nothing will go terribly wrong for anyone, there are darker shadings in the plot that bring out underlying issues. And most refreshingly, the narrative isn't as straightforward as we expect, which makes the film a pleasant surprise.
As he assembles his squad for the Homeless World Cup in Rome, coach Mal (Bill Nighy) recruits gifted striker Vinny (Ward), who has an enormous chip on his shoulder. Not only won't he admit to being homeless, but he has no interest in befriending his teammates. Cal (Young) is angry about this flashy interloper, while the others (Cole, Nazari, Howells and Vaughan-Lawlor) try to make Vinny feel welcome. But the situation grows increasingly tense in Rome, as Vinny plays like a star but avoids the team off the pitch. Clearly something will have to give.
In fine British comedy-drama tradition (see The Full Monty, East Is East or even Love Actually), Boyce's script maintains a humorous tone, filling scenes with amusing characters who are hugely likeable while layering in serious themes without overstating them. This is a tricky balance to maintain, but the filmmakers and actors keep things bright, funny and strongly meaningful at the same time. It's also a rare sporting movie that never lets on-pitch action become the main thing.

Of course, this requires sharply nuanced performances, something Nighy does effortlessly, and he gives Mal a wonderful underlying pathos that adds some edge. Ward brings his bristly charisma to Vinny, a guy who is his own worst enemy and struggles to understand that even when a troubled teammate (the terrific Howells) points it out. Golino is radiant as always as the competition host, gleefully flirting with Nighy. And Wokoma steals the show as a sassy nun who manages the rival South Africa team.

There are perhaps too many issues included for supporting cast members, from a Dreamer (Rodlo) on the US team to a haunted Syrian refugee (Nazari) playing for England. But even these roles are played with nice shadings, meaningfully touching on themes in ways that are resonant and thought-provoking. Throw in an understated romance and lots of camaraderie, plus a reminder to stop and see the beauty around you. This is a relentlessly charming movie that will hopefully earn the Homeless World Cup more global attention.

cert 15 themes, language 25.Mar.24

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© 2024 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall