Playing for Keeps: Practised, Pedestrian, Studio Friendly

George Davis (Gerard Butler) has fallen. From being a professional footballer who used to enthrall throng of people across the world, he’s been reduced to a recluse. He sits in his hovel of an apartment wearing boxers, and records himself speaking about the latest soccer match in front of a camera. We get to know later he is preparing a pitch for the local sports channel so he could be hired as a sportscaster. Fame is a strange thing: when you are in the heat of things, it rarely gives you a moment of doubt. You tend to think this will last forever. It also allows you the luxury of mistakes – lots of them. But it is only when the rug has been pulled, you realize that not only can fame be transient, but also obnoxiously delusional.

And if George’s divorce from public memory wasn’t bad enough, he’s also struggling financially. He’s hounded by his landlord every alternate day asking for rent’s money. He tries selling his professional jerseys, boots, anything of yore he can lay his hands on to pay off the rent money. It doesn’t solve his problem. The shop owner advises him to sell Lebron James’s (famous NBA player) accessories if he wants more money. George knew he was history, now the entire world knows about it. He’s also a single parent, his wife divorced him half-a-decade back. And to compound his insecurities, his ex-wife is about to get married again soon. In a country like the U.S. where divorces are not uncommon, it becomes a backdrop and reason for conflicts in so many of their movies. This one’s no different.

Playing for Keeps

He is hired to coach a children’s football team in neighborhood. But this job assumes heightened importance as his son plays in the team too. This new job provides George two things his current life is sorely bereft of: a focus, and a chance to make up to his son. It’s implied later in the movie that his negligence was a major factor for the couple’s divorce. It’s a decent, little premise for a movie, even if it’s not particularly novel: a father’s attempt to salvage himself in front of his son’s eyes.

It is when he’s appointed as a coach, do we begin seeing the different subplots unfold. Geroge soon becomes the cynosure of moms of children he’s coaching. He’s greeted by hugs, smiles that don’t seem to end, and sexual innuendos whenever he meets them. The subplot is quite pedestrian; it not only reduces the majority of female characters in the movie to some sex-famished bimbos, but also takes a lot of sheen away from the movie’s primal conflict.

The movie has been directed by Gabriele Mucono; he once directed the immensely moving, and searingly real The Pursuit of Happyness. After coming out of this movie, you would not be able to tell that it has been made by the same guy who was responsible for The Pursuit of Happyness. And it’s a little odd because even this movie tries to explore and understand the relationship between a father and son, between a husband and wife, and the desperation in life to make it professionally. Where Pursuit of Happyness felt a lot real, jagged, and personal, this one on the contrary feels a lot practised, like one of those template studio movies where it’s difficult to distinguish one from the another.

But within the confines of its own stunted ambition, the movie performs quite okay. It has these poignant moments between the father and son (although sporadic and sparse), between the husband and wife. In one of the scenes George asks Stacie, “How would it have been had I not screwed up?” Does she even think about it, he adds. She replies, she used to think about it all the time. Even if the movie feels a lot cliched, impersonal, sprinkled with generic shots, and unremarkable dialogues, there’s a poignant story that lies in the crux of the movie: of a man trying to redeem himself by doing the basics right — by being more accountable, by admitting that he screwed up, instead of equivocating.

It’s remarkable how trite and worn out the movie feels like. The movie doesn’t falter too much, but then it doesn’t even aspire much in the first place. So it doesn’t lose a lot, but at the same time, doesn’t gain a whole lot deal by putting much on line. It’s content in being pleasing, but forgetful.

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