Review: ‘Sixty Six’

A 12-year-old boy from North London finds himself praying that England gets knocked out of the 1966 World Cup so that his bar mitzvah won't be upstaged in nostalgic comedy "Sixty Six." Pic is likely to be crushed in the domestic B.O. arena when it opens against "Borat" on Nov. 3, but pic could do minor biz offshore.

A 12-year-old boy from North London finds himself praying that England gets knocked out of the 1966 World Cup so that his bar mitzvah won’t be upstaged in nostalgic comedy “Sixty Six.” While mazel tovs are due for efficient playing and execution, predictable script seldom scores big laughs, and the whole matzo ball feels like just another factory-line product from Brit shingle Working Title. Pic is likely to be crushed in the domestic B.O. arena when it opens against “Borat” on Nov. 3, but pic could do minor biz offshore.

Significance of pic’s title may be lost on the rest of the world, but in Blighty every soccer (in Brit parlance, football) fan knows — whatever their age, and even those from Scotland, Ireland or Wales — that 1966 was the year England beat Germany in the World Cup. That sporting victory duly coincides with pic’s climax, but since it’s tangential to the dramady here, prior knowledge of the outcome doesn’t spoil interest.

Indeed, if anything, aud awareness of England’s eventual victory adds a layer of dramatic irony that will give soccer-fans a chance to chuckle knowingly, right from the moment it’s revealed that protagonist Bernie Reubens (Gregg Sulkin) is skedded to have his bar mitzvah on July 30, 1966, the same day as the World Cup’s final game. If England qualifies, no one will come to Bernie’s big day, a lavish affair Bernie spends hours planning, from the cocktails to the seating plan.

Asthmatic, brainy Bernie suddenly develops an avid interest in the sport as he roots for any team to knock England out. The Reubens’ family sawbones Dr. Barrie (a somewhat wasted Stephen Rea) encourages Bernie’s interest in football.

Bernie’s green grocer dad Manny (Eddie Marsan), however, is too preoccupied with his own troubles to notice Bernie’s angst. The opening of a large supermarket looks likely to put Manny and his brother Jimmy (Peter Serafinowicz) out of business.

Manny will have to cut back drastically on the budget for Bernie’s bash, a fact his wife Esther (Helena Bonham Carter, cast amusingly against type) knows will crush their son.

A thick, gooey layer of voiceover narration from Bernie is just one of several tired devices — along with use of Super 8 footage to rep flashbacks, and knowingly ironic soundtrack choices — that makes pic feel hackneyed, despite some choice cuts of dialogue. The would-be uplifting ending, tying the football and fatherly love themes together, is excessively schmaltzy, but is nevertheless nicely put across by Marsan in particular, bringing a last-act burst of warmth to his fussy, uptight character.

Production design meshes neatly with the canny use of locations to create convincing period atmosphere, and the rest of the tech credits are workmanlike, if undistinguished. Costume designer Rebecca Hale must have had a ball raiding second-hand stores for femme cast’s vintage dresses, a riot of lurid, eye-searing prints.

Sixty Six

U.K.

Production

A UIP (in the U.K.) release of a Universal Pictures, Working Title Films presentation, in association with Studiocanal, of a WT² production, in association with Ingenious Film Partners 2 LLP. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Elizabeth Karlsen. Executive producers, Richard Curtis, Natascha Wharton. Directed by Paul Weiland. Screenplay, Peter Straughan, Bridget O'Connor, based on a story by Weiland.

Crew

Camera (color/ B&W, Super 8-to-35mm), Daniel Landin; editor, Paul Tothill; music, Joby Talbot; music supervisor, Nick Angel; production designer, Michael Howells; supervising art director, Lynne Huitson; costume designer, Rebecca Hale; sound (Dolby Digital), Simon Hayes; supervising sound editor, Catherine Hodgson. Reviewed at MPC Preview Theater, London, Oct. 5, 2006. Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Gregg Sulkin, Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Marsan, Catherine Tate, Peter Serafinowicz, Ben Newton, Stephen Rea, Geraldine Somerville, Richard Katz.
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