The Beautiful Game

The Beautiful Game
The Beautiful Game
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Bill Nighy and Michael Ward star in “ The Beautiful Game,” a new film that is based on the Homeless World Cup, an actual international football tournament.

However, don’t expect documentary reality or grit. This is a movie-movie (available on Netflix this Friday), that is structured to make you feel motivated. It should be remembered that this isn’t such a bad thing – verité authenticity has its place but so do glossy constructed fantasies which still stir genuine feeling and reach some core truths… “The Beautiful Game,” directed by Thea Sharrock, it’s very much of the latter type. Just don’t get your hopes up too high.

The first Homeless World Cup took place in 2003 and since then nearly 70 countries and over 1.2 million people participated. And yet, I suspect, its existence might come as a surprise to many (even soccer fans …excuse me, football). There are good intentions behind this foundation’s work as it brings attention to homelessness in major cities around the world while instilling pride within players.

Colin Farrell was one of the main producers on this film and also narrated the 2008 documentary about these games (“Kicking It,” presently streaming on Freevee ). Screenwriter Frank Cotrell-Boyce who worked with past participants of the tournament sought inspiration from them to create his characters. It may be cinema but it has reality coursing through its veins.

If you have a Ted Lasso shaped hole in your heart (or, less dramatically, viewing schedule) or if you’re still smarting after Taika Waititi’s misfire Next Goal Wins”, give this one a shot. But he’s not remotely ready to join any team, even one going to a real tournament in Rome, that has the word “homeless” in it.Ward plays Vinny who happens to be an unlucky father of an exceptional girl soccer player. However he is not even willing to join a team going to a real tournament in Rome, whose name has the word ‘homeless’ in it. 

Nighy plays Mal, a kind and soft-spoken (except when a ref makes a bad call) football legend who coaches the homeless England team: Nathan (Callum Scott Howells), Aldar (Robin Nazari), Kevin (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), Cal (Kit Young) and Jason (Sheyi Cole). However each of them have journeys that got them there but all are nice kids with good attitudes who can’t wait to play. Vinny is the stick in the mud, making things tense and awkward at every turn. He basically believes he’s better than his teammates at football as well as in life which really says more about him than anyone else.

Though Vinny and company for England take up most of our focus, b-plots are given to Japan—a first-time squad comprised of slightly older individuals led by an ambitious young coach Aoi Okuyama—America—women’s team with one star player Cristina Rodlo—and South Africa—the best group under the guidance of shrewd nun Protasia played by Susan Wokoma. For such an ensemble cast, most characters find themselves doing something meaningful here. It’s also not a half-bad travelog for Rome either or Valeria Golino leading the tournament too.

Is it a unique and alluring with some cheerful tuneful music? Yes. But also, it is a deeply reflective piece that talks of redemption, invisibility, self-respect and sportsmanship without becoming judgemental or condescending. The PG-13 rating baffles me slightly – this film seems to be on the milder side of the spectrum and can be watched by people of all ages. And, oh yes Sharrock and her crew are good at showing how soccer is thrilling (which many movies haven’t).

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