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Eleven Men Out

Distinctively dyspeptic Icelander humor married to coming-out and misfit-sports-team comedy formulas makes for an upset win by "Eleven Men Out." Near-identical in premise to concurrent German pic "Guys & Balls," Robert I. Douglas' breakout feature is -- by contrast with that by-numbers exercise -- a non-pandering crowd-pleaser whose character quirks and small stabs at poignancy feel refreshingly earned. Sales prospects abroad are bright.

With:
With: Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson, Lilja Nott, Arnmundur Ernst, Helgi Bjornsson, Sigurdur Skulason, Thornorstein Bachmann, Bjork Jakobsdottir, Jon Atli Jonasson. (Icelandic dialogue)

Distinctively dyspeptic Icelander humor married to coming-out and misfit-sports-team comedy formulas makes for an upset win by “Eleven Men Out.” Near-identical in premise to concurrent German pic “Guys & Balls,” Robert I. Douglas’ breakout feature is — by contrast with that by-numbers exercise — a non-pandering crowd-pleaser whose character quirks and small stabs at poignancy feel refreshingly earned. Sales prospects abroad are bright.

Ottar Thor (Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson) is the handsome, arrogant star player of a pro soccer team, as well as main breadwinner for a family in which the overbearing males seem to spend most of their time telling long-suffering wives to shaddap. Ottar is divorced from his spouse, a former Miss Iceland (Lilja Nott as Gugga) turned full-time alcoholic. They share custody of adolescent son Magnus (Arnmundur Ernst), who buries himself in videogames.

Ottar doesn’t think about the repercussions when he decides to tell a journalist — in the locker room after a game — that he’s gay. His motivation is no loftier than securing a magazine cover for himself. But teammates, the conservative owners, and everyone else immediately freak out. Ottar finds himself banned from play, and for lack of anything else to do, joins a friend’s amateur league team, which already has a couple of gay guys on board. Soon more show up — drawn by the protag’s notoriety — as hetero players flee.

Reconstituted squad’s league status skyrockets, even if its winning streak is largely a matter of forfeits by rivals who refuse to play the “queers.” Meanwhile, Ottar’s former team is suffering a publicity backlash from having kicked him out. They want him back — even if they’re still nowhere near to accepting “the gay thing.”

Things culminate in a farfetched but agreeable showcase match between amateurs and pros, which just happens to be scheduled on Gay Pride Day.

A similarly acerbic but not unkind humor pervades the story’s other threads. Ottar’s parenting skills are fairly lousy, but he does care, as does the generally hapless Gugga. Magga’s rising hostility turns out to be based not in homophobia, but in the fact that no 13-year-old is thick-skinned enough to welcome a parent’s coming out in the national media.

When Ottar tries to settle down into his new lifestyle by going steady with a teammate, the effort flops — because he chooses a partner even more shallow than he. Subsidiary characters — notably, the hero’s incredibly obnoxious father (Sigurdur Skulason) and brother (co-scenarist Jon Atli Jonasson — have no redemptive qualities, but make up in sheer hilarity whatever they lack in psychological nuance.

Perfs are perfectly in tune with the director’s deadpan yet boisterous tone. Design contribs hit the right gritty but polished note, while the tech package is first-rate.

Eleven Men Out

Iceland-Finland-U.K.

Production: An Icelandic Film Co., F&ME, Solarfilms production in association with Icelandic Film Center and Invicta Capital. Produced by Julius Kemp, Ingvar Thorolarson. Co-producers, Sam Taylor, Mike Downey, Markus Selin, Jukka Helle. Directed by Robert I. Douglas. Screenplay, Jon Alti Jonasson, Douglas.

Crew: Camera (color), G. Magni Agustsson; editor, Asta Briem; music, Bardi Johannsson & Minus; production designer, Konrad Haller; costume designer, Linda Bjorg Arnadottir; sound (Dolby Digital), Huldar Freyr Arnarson; assistant director, Jonasson. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 15, 2005. Running time: 86 MIN.

With: With: Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson, Lilja Nott, Arnmundur Ernst, Helgi Bjornsson, Sigurdur Skulason, Thornorstein Bachmann, Bjork Jakobsdottir, Jon Atli Jonasson. (Icelandic dialogue)

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