‘The Beautiful Game’ Review: A Different Kind of World Cup

‘The Beautiful Game’ Review: A Different Kind of World Cup

It’s moderately surprising that it’s taken filmmakers two decades to concoct a heart-string-tugging underdog story out of the annual coed sport event known as the Homeless World Cup, a weeklong international competition featuring homeless soccer players.

Directed by Thea Sharrock and written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, “The Beautiful Game” is an upbeat, amiable picture that, as its title suggests, puts the sport in front. Which isn’t to say the conditions of the players are ignored. Nathan (Callum Scott Howells), a recovering addict, has a particularly tough time. But the emphasis is on play and uplift. The sunny climes of Rome, where the tournament in the movie is set, help sell it.

The great Bill Nighy plays Mal, the coordinator and coach for England’s team, who one afternoon spots Vinny (Micheal Ward) giving pointers to some younger players. Vinny’s got talent, but Mal seems to recognize more in him. Mal also correctly guesses that Vinny’s more or less living out of his car.

The writer, Boyce, is known for more adventurous fare than this (see “Tristram Shandy,” from 2006), but this is a more conventional story. Here, Boyce steers around some clichés, but not others. For example, when Ellie (Jessye Romeo), Vinny’s ever-disappointed former partner, tells him to admit that he’s not going to be able to attend their daughter’s school event, rather than prevaricating, Vinny does just that, proudly proclaiming that he’ll go to Rome despite his initial resistance to Mal’s pitch.

Peppered with funny and inspiring moments, like the charming way the South African team gets a makeup game after being held up at their airport, “The Beautiful Game” is a model of a modern “nice” movie.

The Beautiful Game
Rated PG-13 for language, themes. Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes. Watch on Netflix.

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