A teenager learns that self-confidence is in your head, not your soccer boots, in “There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble,” a congenial but dramatically muddled comedy-drama about a young Mancunian who dreams of glory on his home turf. Although its adult talent (Robert Carlyle, Ray Winstone, Gina McKee) is miscast, pic is largely sustained by a likable, plucky performance from newcomer Lewis McKenzie in the title role — however, that may not be enough to propel this over-fabricated crowdpleaser to the popularity it desires. Offshore business looks to be milder than in the U.K., with the local subject matter and the kids’ often thick Mancunian accents being potential stumbling blocks for North American auds.
In a city territorially divided by two very different soccer clubs — world famous Manchester United and less famous Manchester City — 15-year-old Jimmy (McKenzie) is a fervent City supporter living in the wrong end of town. In fact, almost every facet of Jimmy’s life is out of synch: At school, he’s bullied by soccer jock “Gorgeous” Gordon (Bobby Power); at home, mom Donna (McKee) has a spaced-out new lover (Ben Miller) who’s obsessed with his Harley-Davidson; and on the girlfriend front, Jimmy is fancied by the confident Sara (Samia Ghadie) but gets hopelessly tongue-tied in her presence.
Jimmy is encouraged on the soccer field by the school’s coach, Eric (Robert Carlyle), but consistently proves unable to perform as he does in his fantasies. Worse, Gorgeous is actually a talented player, and his businessman father (John Henshaw) has promised the high school a much-needed £90,000 ($140,000) if the team gets through to the final of the Manchester Schools Cup. Eric is forced to fall into line and let Gorgeous be the star.
So far, so good. Pic sketches a broad array of characters, sets up a likable seriocomic tone and — with a bouncy score and d.p. John de Borman’s generally bright lensing — creates a slightly heightened reality out of its grungy urban setting. McKenzie is strong from the get-go, and his voiceovers quickly draw the viewer in. Soon, however, the script problems start.
On the run from being bullied by Gorgeous and his pals, Jimmy strays into a condemned building one night and in the basement meets a benign, witchlike old bag lady (Jane Lapotaire) who gives him some magical soccer boots, supposedly worn by a legendary City player. Also shoehorned uncomfortably into the plot is Harry (Winstone), Donna’s ex and Jimmy’s longtime companion at City matches, whose background is rapidly drawn in flashback.
When the school makes it through to the final and the magic boots come up missing, the “rely on yourself” message can be seen a mile off.
In the second half and especially in the final act, script is pulled every which way as the writers try to resolve all the plot and character strands: Eric’s wimpiness in the face of Gorgeous’ cockiness, Harry’s peripheral connection with the main story, Jimmy’s relationship with Sara, and so on. An early casualty is Donna, who’s left on the sidelines, and the reliance on pounding rock songs to propel the film at intervals starts to smack of desperation.
With a natty quiff and sunny smile, Winstone, in what amounts to an extended cameo, plays a character who’s a long way from his usual thuggish Cockney roles. Carlyle, too, is very restrained, in a wimpy part that simply doesn’t fit the actor; McKee, a fine actress when given the chance, is underemployed.
Perfs by the rest of the cast are good, especially Power as the cocky Gorgeous, but the basic imbalance in the casting unsettles the movie.
Soccer scenes are fine but bring nothing new to the genre, apart from fleeting effects to show the power of Jimmy’s magic boots. The Manchester setting is also well caught, though without conveying any of the city’s special flavor.
As recent British soccer movies go, the adult-themed “When Saturday Comes” (1996), set in Sheffield, with Sean Bean, was altogether more of a piece.