Run time: 43 mins
In Theaters: Monday 10th March 2014
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
IMDB: 7.4 / 10
Director: David Scheinmann
Producer: Manuela Noble, Justin Peyton, Ben Timlett
Screenwriter: Massimiliano Durante, Carmelo Pennisi
Starring: Natascha McElhone as Erica Gallagher, Brian Cox as Matt Busby, Toby Stephens as Dr. Farquar, Kate Ashfield as Helen, Anne Reid as Jean Busby, Philip Jackson as Bob, Richard Strange as Father Brian
Also starring: Jack Smith
With its heart in the right place, this charming British football drama overcomes a script that frequently drifts into sentimentality and corny plotting. But the story is involving, and the cast is particularly good. So even though it has a tendency to drift into cuteness, a fresh sense of humour and sympathetic characters help build up a swell of honest emotion as it approaches the final whistle.
It's set in 1984 Manchester, where the legendary Manchester United manager Matt Busby (Brian Cox) is still haunted by the Munich plane crash in 1958 that took the lives of several of his dream-team players. In search of something to give meaning to his retirement years, he runs across a street-smart 10-year-old named Georgie (Jack Smith), who has his own issues. Georgie lives with his working-class single mum Erica (Natascha McElhone), who worries about his future and leaps at the chance of a scholarship to send him to a posh private school. Georgie isn't thrilled about studying for the entrance exam with snooty professor Farquar (Toby Stephens); he'd rather be out kicking a ball with his friends, and is secretly plotting to enter a youth competition with them. But they need an adult sponsor, so Matt and his friend Bob (Philip Jackson) agree to take them on. And the kids have no idea that they're being trained by a national icon.
Director David Scheinmann shoots the film with sundrenched charm, grounding the goofier moments by encouraging the cast to give deeply felt performances. At the centre, Cox and Jackson are an entertaining double act as old pals kickstarting their lives by taking on this young team overflowing with raw talent but no discipline. McElhone is essentially playing the standard movie mother who's too busy with the pressures of everyday life to notice much of anything that her tearaway son is doing, but she gives the role a sharp emotional centre. Stephens has more trouble in his rather wacky role, which drifts from callous nastiness to physical slapstick.
Meanwhile, Smith is the filmmakers' real discovery: a tiny kid who can hold his own both as a football player and as an actor. His dramatic scenes are genuinely moving, and his kinetic physical energy is magnetic. The other young actors are also real players drawn from youth teams around Britain, and are also good in more stereotypical roles. But even if the script is happy to wallow in cheap sentiment, including several rather wistful Field of Dreams-style sequences, the scruffy exuberance wins over the audience, making both Matt's and Georgie's personal journeys resonate in surprising ways.