‘The Beautiful Game’ Netflix Review: A Heartfelt Yet Lackluster Film


I stepped into The Beautiful Game without knowing a single thing about it. I didn’t even know what language the Netflix original was in, but about five minutes into the film, I realized I’d already seen this one before. Okay, not actually The Beautiful Game, but a similar Korean film titled Dream, starring heartthrob Park Seo-Jun and the nation’s little sister Lee Ji-Eun. Though both films have one common goal (outside of football, of course), which is showing the world that such a thing as the “Homeless World Cup” exists, I found both films quite run-of-the-mill. While Dream, which came out only late last year (oddly close timing if you ask me), focuses on the underdog story and tries to show us that anyone has the potential to win if they’re passionate, The Beautiful Game is more focused on the individuals involved in the game. I suppose it’s the cultural difference that is clearly visible in the two films, both so similar yet so different. 

Set in unsunny England, The Beautiful Game begins with Vinny, a rundown man who lives out of his car and pretends he’s not homeless, showing off his impeccable dancing feet in a field where children were meant to be practicing. Disturbed parents do not appreciate his showmanship, and Vinny is saved by Mal, a feisty old Bill Nighy, ready to take control of the situation. See, Mal has put together a team to play at the “Homeless World Cup,” and he wants to sign Vinny up as well. A good amount of time in The Beautiful Game is spent on Vinny’s disdain for the word “homeless” and his insecurities—too long, if you ask me—yet Michael Ward is charming in the act and never fails to command the screen. My only qualm is that it isn’t enough to keep us interested for over two hours. Dream was entertaining because of how it infused comedy into the serious underdog story, which kept us entertained despite its long-ish runtime. Though The Beautiful Game has its little comedic moments, it’s an overall more serious film. Just like Park Seo-Jun took a step back as the “lead” in this film, Nighy is the cool and collected background actor who steals the show every time he’s on screen. He’s almost like a teddy bear in the film, always comforting when required, never over-present. On the other hand, Ward delivers a fantastic performance for a rather shallow character. What I don’t appreciate about scripts like this one is how much it focuses on characters’ flaws for the full effect of their ultimate realizations. Kit Young is also highly entertaining, and it’s such a shame that Shadow and Bone was cancelled, because he’s a natural on screen. 

In lieu of a predictable ending, The Beautiful Game wraps up the movie on a more personal note. Without a doubt, it is in fact about Ward’s character Vinny, and though this diversion makes the film less predictable, it also undermines it as a whole. Additionally, there are a gazillion subplots that feel like overcompensation for the otherwise thin script. I suppose it’s to make the English film a cultural melting pot of the homeless from across the world, a Japanese team with a female leader whose story is a bit hung up on stereotypes. A South African nun leaves everything to faith and somehow manages to emerge victorious each time. I suppose this derailment is for comic relief, yet it doesn’t have the expected effect. Valeria Golino is the Italian hostess of the grand event. It’s a shame there’s no time to really explore her character and the hint of chemistry between her and Nighy’s character. 

This movie is over two hours long, and you can feel the time. It could’ve been cut short, especially for emotional effect. Personally, I wasn’t very moved by the film, and it is so easy to turn that tap on for me, so I think that’s a drawback. The film is meant to be emotionally draining, but I didn’t quite feel it through its 2-hour runtime. I suppose the pacing is a little bit lethargic, and there’s a mundane buzz somewhere in the middle. 

“I’d like to fill my brain with good things, so there’s no room for bad things,” says one of the players on the team, and this film almost emulates this message. There’s a lot of negativity in Vinny’s character, yet there is hope in the Homeless World Cup. So, the film goes from gloomy old England to sunny and bright Rome, also attempting to forget the darkness within the players, specifically Vinny, to feel that hope. There’s a moment in the film where “Seven Nation Army” plays in the background, and it really feels like you’re watching a football match, but don’t be fooled; it’s a satiny film with more shine than durability, but it does the trick if you want a family watch. 

I suppose the sentimentality of Thea Sharrock’s film doesn’t translate as well as it did with her previous hit Me Before You, but The Beautiful Game is still overall a decent film. I guess I just sound like a grumpy old woman who just doesn’t like football, but my distaste for the game never hinders my viewing experience. Movies are entertainment; they’re not meant to be a documentary that teaches me about the sport and how its many principles can be used in my worldview. I mean, I really enjoyed Million Dollar Arm, and my knowledge of baseball is as shallow as a puddle after a light drizzle. I don’t have a problem with sentimental films; in fact, I advocate for more of them; I just have high expectations from them, and The Beautiful Game didn’t quite hit the mark. I wouldn’t call The Beautiful Game a mediocre movie; there is still something moving in it, and in today’s climate, this is better than most, so I suppose I should take what I get. I suppose the offside for me was that I had already seen Dream, and another one of these films so soon after didn’t help. Maybe a few years later, I’ll give this one a free kick and feel emotions anew. Until then, I’m giving The Beautiful Game an average score of 2.5 out of 5 footballs. 

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Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika Bhat
When not tending to her fashion small business, Ruchika or Ru spends the rest of her time enjoying some cinema and TV all by herself. She's got a penchant for all things Korean and lives in drama world for the most part.

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