6 May 2024

Review: The Beautiful Game, The Greatest Hits, The Idea of You

From Widescreen, 3:28 pm on 6 May 2024
Bill Nighy as coach Mal Bradley is the 2024 Netflix feature film The Beautiful Game

Photo: © Netflix

This week it’s Baby Reindeer. Last week it was Fallout. A few weeks ago, it was Shōgun. The water cooler discussion and social media memes seem to flow around serial television these days but to focus only on episodic content is to miss out on interesting and worthwhile – and dare I say it – even entertaining one-off movies.

Here are three new films that bypassed cinemas because they were either acquired or commissioned by streaming services. And, like Friday night cinema releases in the days before television, they might only get a week of attention and then fade into memory, unloved by the algorithm.

Do they deserve this fate?

The Beautiful Game

A still from the 2024 Netflix film The Beautiful Game featuring Bill Nighy

Photo: © Netflix

My favourite of the three – for reasons of taste and personal background – is this British sports drama based around the annual Homeless World Cup, a real tournament in which unhoused people represent their nations in games of 4-a-side street football, a short, fast and furious version of the game.

The great Bill Nighy is Mal Bradley, a former professional coach and scout who is now dedicated to taking a group that has fallen on hard times and lifting their spirits and their confidence by competing with the rest of the world. Except England have failed to win the tournament for eleven years in a row.

Mal is getting desperate, and he discovers a former West Ham trainee named Vinny (Micheal Ward) living in his car but still desperate to show off his skills. Because he had been on the verge of a professional career, Vinny is something of a ring-in for this tournament and feels like he doesn’t belong with the refugees, recovering addicts, problem gamblers and others who have found themselves on the streets.

As you might expect, this is a feel-good redemption story but it takes some interesting turns to get there. Everyone – even those representing other countries like South Africa and Japan – get a moment or two to tell their stories and many of the actors playing those characters have themselves come through the Homeless World Cup system.

The film is directed by Thea Sharrock (Dirty Little Letters) but the key name I want you to pay attention to is screenwriter Frank Cottrell-Boyce. He’s a veteran partner of director Michael Winterbottom (Welcome to Sarajevo, 24 Hour Party People) and Danny Boyle (Millions) and with his name on a film, the chances are it won’t just be good, it will be right.

This film has been a labour of love for Cottrell-Boyce for more than a decade – at one point Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleason were going to star – and, while it packs a lot of stories into its two-hour running time it also has plenty of heart.

The Greatest Hits

Still from the 2024 Disney+ film The Greatest Hits

Photo: Disney+

In the spirit of movies by the likes of Cameron Crowe and Richard Linklater, Ned Benson’s film merges indie music, rom-coms and time travel but the finished product doesn’t quite manage to do any of those things justice.

After premiering at South by Southwest only a couple of months ago, The Greatest Hits has been rushed onto streaming – Hulu in the US and Disney+ in the rest of the world –  while there is still some indie buzz around it.

Lucy Boynton (Bohemian Rhapsody) plays Harriet, living in Los Angeles, grieving over the loss of her boyfriend Max (David Corenswet – the new Superman!), in a car accident that she only just survived. Like many people suffering that kind of loss, the unexpected exposure to certain songs triggers a post-traumatic episode, but unlike many people those episodes take the form of actual time travel.

When she hears a song that reminds her of Max, the screen shimmers for a moment and she is transported back to the moment they heard that song. Once she is there, she attempts to change the course of history so that she and Max won’t take that fateful car journey and they will survive together but she is never successful, the tragic events repeat themselves, and she now avoids any music that she hasn’t pre-screened as being ‘safe’.

At a support group she meets David Park (Justin H. Min), who is dealing with the recent loss of his parents. He is also a music lover, and they form an unlikely bond over a Roxy Music remix.

The film then becomes Harriet’s journey towards a realisation that fate has brought her and David together, but that fate also demands that her unimaginable loss goes unmended.

It’s a neat twist on a familiar story and Min, in particular, works hard to try and give the fledgling romance some life. The music choices are good, if sometimes baffling for people of their age, but some of the rom-com clichés – the gay best friend? – do not get transcended.

The Idea of You

Still from the 2024 Prime Video movie The Idea of You featuring Nicholas Galitzine and Anne Hathaway

Photo: Prime Video

I’ve described The Greatest Hits as a rom-com but it’s much more of romance than comedy and the same goes for Michael Showalter’s adaptation of Robinne Lee’s 2017 novel about a boy band singer falling for an older woman. (Coincidentally, The Idea of You also premiered at South by Southwest in March before being rushed to streaming.)

Anne Hathaway plays Solène, a divorced art dealer in Los Angeles – the successfully specific LA-ness of The Idea of You is another parallel with The Greatest Hits – who becomes obliged to take her daughter (Ella Rubin) and her friends to a VIP meet and greet experience with August Moon, ‘the biggest boy band on the planet’, at their appearance at Coachella.

There Solène has a meet-cute with August Moon singer Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine) and sparks fly. He visits her gallery, buys everything she has, and she takes him home for sandwich – not a euphemism.

He is attracted – we think – to her ‘realness’ and her appreciation for art and she is attracted – we think – to his vulnerability and his smoking hot good looks. An affair ensures which sees her travelling the world on the August Moon tour, attempting unsuccessfully to avoid paparazzi attention.

Their love is destined to be thwarted by opposition from all sides. Negative attitudes towards the age difference are amplified horrifically by social media and the tabloid press. The portrayal of the brutality of the online criticism – and the effect on Solène’s daughter – are a strength of the film but that’s pretty much the only time that stuff gets real. Otherwise, we are in fantasy world where any opportunity to experience some real drama is avoided in favour of the global glamour of the pop world seen through Solènes’ eyes.

Hathaway, therefore, doesn’t get a chance to move out of second gear. She’s a thoroughbred but straining at the bit with this material.

Galitzine – NZ fans might recall him in Miranda Harcourt and Stuart McKenzie’s 2017 Margaret Mahy adaptation The Changeover – is well cast and gets to showcase his triple-threat ability by doing his own singing and dancing. And he almost matches Hathaway in the formidable lips department. But he, too, is let down by a script that gives him no depth, only the bare bones of motivation. The only journey he manages to go on is the one where he grows a whispy beard, indicating his new found artistic sensitivity.

The Beautiful Game is streaming now on Netflix and is rated M (drug reference, sexual themes). The Greatest Hits is streaming now on Disney+ and is rated M. The Idea of You is streaming now on Prime Video and is rated R13.