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.
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You'd think Demme would know what he's doing. At best, Roy Cohn/Jack Smith is a cinematic oddity, rambling and barely coherent -- a common problem with films in which there are few diversions aside from moving lips (see The Designated Mourner for a prime example of this).
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