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The Beautiful Game Review

by Daniel Reynolds
2.0 out of 5.0 stars

The Homeless World Cup. It sounds made up, yet that’s the competition at the centre of The Beautiful Game, the latest feel-good sports film to come down the line. To be clear: this is a real event, and it could even be said to deserve the cinematic treatment, in one form or another. As directed by Thea Sharrock, however, we’re given the glad-handing version; a film with the lightest touch and about as challenging as an empty-net goal.

Before attacking this film, a disclaimer: the real-life players in the Homeless World Cup are not being criticized here. For many of its participants, as The Beautiful Game expresses in fictional form, this may be their only chance to see a beautiful city like Rome, for example. And sure, it’s not nothing to be part of a unique competition, one presumably less beholden to big money interests like the actual World Cup. Still, for Vinny (Michael Ward), the in-film English team’s newest star, the whole affair is something of an embarrassment. He’s homeless but also in denial, until an encounter with the squad’s coach Mal (Bill Nighy, sleep-walking) gets him back onto the pitch—and maybe, just maybe, on the path to getting his life right. As written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, that’s about the creative level to which this film aspires. With all of its scattershot storylines and characters—which include an aspiring young American woman, an aging Japanese squad, and a late, nun-led South African team—the film almost feels like it’s trying to be a TV show (it goes almost without saying, it already looks like one). Let me assure you: this is not a compliment.

Again, not to be critical of the players, there just seems to be a disconnect between the lived experience of homeless people and what this event represents. Sharrock’s film can’t explore that much beyond the surface, which only suggests we could use a different type of film about the subject.

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