The Beautiful Game

Posted on March 28, 2024 at 12:56 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some language, a suggestive reference, brief partial nudity and drug references
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: References to drug abuse, alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Reference to tragic violence
Diversity Issues: Class issues

“We sat up late into the night talking about how we could change the world.” That was the origin of the Homeless World Cup. Mel Young and Harald Schmied attended an international meeting of editors, founders, and directors of street newspapers, staffed by people who were unhoused. They wanted to create an opportunity for other unhoused people to have the same opportunity to attend an international event devoted to showing their best. What could unite the world more than a Homeless World Cup of “the beautiful game” of football, the “universal language,” except, of course, when the US insists on calling it soccer.

So this is a based-on-a-true-story underdog sports team story, with touching lessons about teamwork and sportsmanship. It has extra resonance because it shows us unhoused people are individuals, and without being preachy, the film reminds us that some people in that category are damaged, have mental illness or addiction issues. Some made bad choices and some just had very bad luck. Some have just been away from regular human interaction for so long they have forgotten the basics. But with a goal and team, they have purpose. “The miracle is respect,” one of the game’s organizers says.

This film has a ton of heart, lively sports action, beautiful scenery, and the true MVP every time we see him, Bill Nighy as Mal, the coach of the English team.

Mal sees Vinny (Micheal Ward, a standout in “Empire of Light”) playing with a soccer ball in a park and offers him a chance to go to the Homeless World Cup in Rome as a part of the England team. Vinny insists that he is not homeless and is insulted for being thought to be. But the chance to play, to have something to be proud of to share with his young daughter, is too much to resist, and he finds himself on a plane with Mal and the rest of the team. The other players include Nathan (Callum Scott Howells), Aldar (Robin Nazari), and Cal (Kit Young). As we might expect, we learn something about the backstories of the team and the players learn something about teams. In this case, since the rules of the Homeless World Cup allow members of one country’s team to substitute on another, the team is soccer in the largest sense and the entire unhoused community.

It is touching to see the team checking into the modest hotel and seeing it as luxurious. “Is it okay to use the shower?” one asks, almost unable to believe. The fierce commitment of the players is touching, too, but not as touching as one team’s reminding their coach that for them, winning means being a part of something and seeing the beauty of The Eternal City. The small audience in the bleachers is almost superfluous. The players are the fans, bringing as much enthusiasm as a cheering crowd filling an arena.

The idea of “winning,” like the idea of “team” is constantly enlarged. The beats of the story are specific and meaningful. The members of the team may not have a place to live but the team is their home. Don’t let Neflix cut off the credits, as the scenes of the real Homeless World Cup participants are wonderful.

“A dash of panache, please.” “True champions show their worth in defeat” “Everyone has a reason for being here.” the name of that miracle is respect Not homeless England is their home. priests in cassocks playing with s soccer ball, scenery

Parents should know that this film includes some strong language, brief non-sexual rear nudity, and references to drug addiction, gambling addiction, and child neglect.

Family discussion: What made Vinny change his mind about the team? About acknowledging that he was homeless? Why does the World Cup mean so much to the players?

If you like this, try: “Greenfingers” and the documentary, “Kicking It.”

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Contest: Win a DVD of Underdogs

Posted on July 19, 2016 at 8:00 am

You can win a copy of today’s new DVD, Underdogs, an animated story about soccer and magic featuring the voices of Ariana Grande, “Glee’s” Matthew Morrison, Nicolas Hoult, and Bella Thorne. Morrison plays a soccer player who loves Laura (Grande). Hoult is Ace, the town bully. Jake beats Ace in a foosball game, but seven years later Ace returns as a soccer champ and Jake must beat him in a real soccer match with the help of some very small but very talented players.

I have a copy to give away! Send me an email at with Underdogs in the subject line and tell me your favorite athlete. Don’t forget your address! (US addresses only.) I’ll pick a winner at random on July 26, 2016.

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Celebrate the World Cup with Soccer Movies

Posted on June 18, 2010 at 8:00 am

Is this the year the US finally gets it about soccer, I mean football? The biggest sporting event on the planet is the World Cup, taking place this year in South Africa. Now is a great time to recognize the beauty and skill of the world’s most popular game with soccer movies.

1. Bend it Like Beckham A young woman from a traditional Indian family living in London joins a soccer team in this delightful comedy about fitting in and standing out. Parminder Nagra stars along with Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Meyers (“The Tudors”), and Archie Panjabi (“The Good Wife”)

2. The Cup is a gentle and utterly beguiling story of a group of Tibetan monks who go to great lengths to watch the World Cup.

3. Gracie Gracie Bowen (“Mean Creek’s” Carly Schroeder) is the only girl in a soccer-mad blue-collar family in New Jersey, based on the true story of actress Elisabeth Shue, who plays Gracie’s mother. Her younger brothers tease her without mercy, but her older brother Johnny, a star athlete, always encourages her. When he is killed in an accident, she decides to make his dream of beating the rival team come true by taking his place on the team. The boys’ team.

4. The Damned United The star and screenwriter of “The Queen” and “Frost/Nixon” explore some of the same themes of ambition and celebrity in this fact-based story of the soccer coach who took one team to the top and then nearly took a top team to the bottom. Michael Sheen plays Brian Clough, a man whose talents were almost as great as his ego.

5. “The Other Final” When the Netherlands did not qualify for the 2002 World Cup Finals, a Dutch fan came up with the idea of an “alternative” final between the two lowest ranking countries in the world. That would be Bhutan (202nd) and Montserrat (203rd). Neither side had a coach and three days before the match they still didn’t have a referee.

6. A Shot at Glory My friend Desson Thomson, former movie critic for the Washington Post, knows as much about movies as anyone and more about soccer than everyone. He says this movie is worth seeing but not for its story and warns that you should probably turn the volume down when Robert Duvall attempts a Scottish accent. But he assures me that the soccer scenes, featuring real professional players are very well done.

7. Air Bud: World Pup The sports-playing dog joins the soccer team in this family-friendly series entry featuring real-life U.S. Women’s Soccer Team champions Brandi Chastain, Brianna Scurry, and Tisha Venturini.

8. Shaolin Soccer This king fu fantasy movie about an underdog soccer team from writer/director/star Stephen Chow is a genre-bending delight with out-of-this-world special effects.

9. Fever Pitch (1997) Forget the pallid US remake about the Red Sox with Drew Barrymore. And ignore the inflammatory DVD cover art and poster. This version, stars Colin Firth, based on the Nick Hornby book about a teacher whose love for his underdog team begins to interfere with the rest of his life, and it is a sharp, funny, and affectionate portrait of the tribal world of the passionate fan.

10. The Miracle Match (originally called “The Game of Their Lives”) In one of the great upsets in sports history, the US beat England for the World Cup championship in 1950. Gerard Butler and Wes Bentley star in this movie from the people behind “Rudy” and “Hoosiers.”

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