Monday, February 12, 2007

Increasingly Ludicrous Football Movies

Two of recent provenance to mention. First, the Disney soccer-schtick She’s the Man: Shakespeare buffs may find this adaptation of Twelfth Night worth watching if only to gain a new understanding of how low the Bard can go, though apart from the fact that the California high school in question is named "Illyria" rather than "Padua", it’s re-treading a lot of the ground covered by Ten Things I Hate About You.

This unremittingly irritating and treacly-sweet movie has zero to recommend it apart from Vinny Jones' turn as the high school’s football coach. When it is revealed that “Sebastian” is actually “Olivia” the opposing asks for a forfeit on the grounds that no girls are allowed, Vinny responds with his trademark psychotic stare and a jabbing finger to the sternum: “At Illyria, we don’t discriminate…based…on…GENDER!”

Priceless, really.

The other movie – Green Street Hooligans – is much, much more amusing, and not just because of the fact that some lunatic decided to cast Elijah Wood as a wide boy. That’s right: Frodo the Hooligan.

Frodo stars as an ex-Harvard student who travels to London to hang with his sister after his expulsion but who ends up running with a West Ham “firm” known as the Green Street Crew. I’ll spare you a detailed re-counting of what happens because you really should see it yourself; suffice to say that this happy-go-lucky gang starts to make a name for itself by beating up other firms (Birmingham, Man U) before a climatic seen of an arranged fight with the Millwall crew in the docklands.

It’s an odd movie in several respects, not least of all because the king of hoolie-porn lit, Dougie Brimson gets a writing credit. Although this is presumably meant to lend the film some street cred, the results are mixed. On the one hand, the film does move beyond the Bill Bryson-era stereotypes about hooligans – here, a hoolie identity is shown as quite comfortably mixing with a professional working life (one is a teacher, another a pilot). Yet inexplicably, there is the occasional howler of a line which betrays a fierce ignorance of English geography. For instance, a fight between West Ham and Tottenham firms inexplicably takes place miles from either side’s ground at the Bank tube station, and the resulting carnage is explained away by Claire Forlani to the just-arrived Elijah Wood with the words “Tottenham were in town last night” (as opposed to which other night, luv?).

Although Frodo as Hoolie stretches visual credulity, the outsider-becoming-insider device allows Brimson to explain the hooligan lifestyle while only occasionally coming off as didactic. (Frodo: “so West Ham and Millwall are like the Yankees and the Red Sox?”. Chief Hoolie: “More like the Israelis and the Palestinians”). And while the movie occasionally shows flashes of insight into the hoolie mindset (“the rush isn’t from knowing other people have your back – it’s knowing that you have theirs”) the maudlin ending - which relies crucially on Claire Forlani having a brain cramp the size of Switzerland – ends up glorifying hoolies as modern-day working class knights and men of honour. It’s more than a little stomach turning.


Update: an alert reader has correctly pointed out that it was Bill Buford, not Bill Bryson, who worte "Among the Thugs". Sorry.