June 14, 2024

The Beautiful Game 2024 Movie Review

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The Beautiful Game 2024 Movie Review

He just can’t help himself. Vinny (Ward) watches two boy’s teams play, narrating their action like a play-by-play man – then jumps in to show off his moves. He dribbles and drives and jukes and twists and rabonas and nutmegs (OK, I looked up some of the terms, because it’s fun) through a bunch of 12-year-olds, making an uptight coach mad and unwittingly auditioning himself as a striker for Mal (Nighy), a coaching legend who oversees England’s national team for the Homeless World Cup. Thing is, when Mal approaches him, Vinny insists he doesn’t qualify. He has a car and a job and a wife and a kid, he says, but he doth protest too much: He’s somewhat estranged from the wife and kid, the job doesn’t always have work for him, and the car is where he sleeps every night. It’s either pride or denial – or a depressingly potent cocktail of both – that keeps him from fully acknowledging his hardship. Not to mention that Vinny plays like, well, a pro. Is he? Or more likely, was he? Hmm. I’m not saying.

But can Vinny resist an opportunity to get on the pitch again? To play fast-paced four-on-four games? In an international competition? During an all-expenses-paid trip to Rome? Where he can sleep in a real bed? He’s human, so of course not. And Mal, he senses Vinny’s struggles and wants to help – but he also realizes Vinny is the key to being competitive for the first time in team history. The rest of the guys just can’t get it together. I mean, they’re a ragtag group of misfits like you’d expect from a movie like this, but in this case, every team in the Homeless World Cup is a ragtag group of misfits. Roll call: Nathan (Callum Scott Howells) is a lovable goof. Cal (Kit Young) is an intense striker. Kevin (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) is a halfway decent goaltender. Jason (Sheyi Cole) is a meek sort. Aldar (Robin Nazari) has a head for analyzing competitors and brackets and such. They’ve all been in trouble (drugs, gambling and the like, or in Aldar’s case, he’s a Syrian refugee) but soccer helps keep them out of trouble.

The guys’ background is beside the point. The main point is, if you put them on the beach and asked them to kick a soccer ball into the ocean, they’d probably miss. Vinny has real skill and, in Mal’s words, swagger. They get to Rome and Vinny leads them in smoking the Portuguese team like a big fat doob. But Vinny can’t get over himself. He doesn’t want to associate with his teammates off the pitch, because doing so means, well, that he’s equals with them. His ego and superiority complex get the best of him, but Mal and his new friends don’t give up on him because they know he’s hurting. It’s not always easy in competition either, because the teams get tougher, especially the South Africans, coached by a highly enthusiastic nun, Protasia (Susan Wokoma). Meanwhile, Mal wrestles with his own depressive demons, Jason crushes on American player Rosita (Cristina Rodlo) and Nathan struggles with his addiction. Will England win the Cup, or at least make a dent in the tourney? More importantly though, will Vinny eventually soften up and let his new friends win him over, and come to terms with his torment?

The Beautiful Game banks on its undeniable warmth, Ward’s strong central performance and the handful of wrinkles in the story that prevent it from becoming fully formulaic. Which isn’t to say the film doesn’t adhere to the formula of uplifting sports dramedies, it just doesn’t kowtow to it. There are times when it gets distracted by arguably unnecessary subplots (about the first-timer Japanese team, or the travails of the South Africans), when Nighy seems a little hamstrung by the limitations of his character, when the sports-action sequences feel a little too assembled-in-the-editing-room to be truly suspenseful or thrilling. But the overall genial, heartwarming tone wins us over.

By dramatizing the Homeless World Cup, the film reframes the standard thrill-of-victory sports-movie theme within a more thoughtful and nuanced context. Nobody’s playing these games for glory or fame; they’re playing to better themselves, to emphasize something positive in their trying daily lives. And as we watch, we hope that simple, honest and truthful sentiment eventually permeates Vinny’s bitterness. I’m not going to say if it does (although you can probably guess pretty easily), but Ward’s performance implies that personal change is a process, not a magical occurrence that happens overnight, or a perfectly lovely trip to Rome to play the game you love. Not all films of this genre are brave enough to pursue that idea.

The Beautiful Game 2024 Movie Review