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Film Review: ‘The Bromley Boys’

Steve Kelly's soccer-fixated coming-of-age comedy is mild, good-natured and never quite funny enough.

With:
Brenock O'Connor, Savannah Baker, Jamie Forman, Alan Davies, Martine McCutcheon

1 hour 46 minutes

There’s a sweet message at the heart of “The Bromley Boys” about finding the heroism in mediocrity, thought it’s one not best served by the film being entirely mediocre itself. Adapted from a sepia-tinted memoir by British author Dave Roberts — detailing the childhood origins of his obsession with the consistently second-rate Bromley soccer team — Steve Kelly’s lightweight film spins allegedly true events into the stuff of pure sitcom: affable enough, but so glibly inauthentic as to make “Bend It Like Beckham” look like cinéma vérité by comparison. It’s curious how the world’s most popular sport maintains such a thin roster of truly classic movies in its honor; that is unchanged here.

Perhaps ongoing “Game of Thrones” mania is to credit for a belated, somewhat surprising U.S. release for “The Bromley Boys,” a year after it failed to score on home turf: It’s led by appealingly gawky series alum Brenock O’Connor, as a socially inept teen who improbably intervenes in his beloved team’s long losing streak. If local audiences didn’t turn out in droves for a largely parochial film that hinges on inbuilt viewer affection for deeply entrenched English institutions — be it non-league football nerdism or the presence of “EastEnders” veteran Martine McCutcheon in the supporting cast — it’s hard to see what’s in it for the international crowd.

The film’s opening scene prompts memories of a more polished but similarly cornball piece of British sporting nostalgia, 2006’s “Sixty-Six,” as 11-year-old Dave (O’Connor) disrupts a dour family camping trip with his jubilant celebration over England’s 1966 World Cup victory — to the bemusement of his stuffy, soccer-loathing dad Donald (Alan Davies, who also narrates proceedings as the older Dave). Stringy, jauntily bespectacled and bullied even by the girls at the posh private school to which his aspirational working-class parents have sent him, Dave is the kind of soccer devotee who would never dream of getting on the pitch himself. He just wants to watch, a habit his salt-of-the-earth mom Gertrude (Martine McCutcheon) attempts to humor by knitting him a team scarf for Bromley, their nearest soccer club.

The team is hopeless — literal leagues below other boys’ favorites like Manchester United and Leeds — but Dave takes the shabby scarf as a sign that they have chosen him rather than the other way round. Becoming a steadfast presence on the sidelines at matches and practice sessions alike, he swiftly ingratiates himself with the team’s older sadsack supporters, as well as Ruby (Savannah Baker), the awkward teenage daughter of the team’s shady manager Charlie (Jamie Foreman). She’s a useful ally to have as Dave and his bumbling fellow fans hatch a harebrained scheme to reverse Bromley’s fortunes; she’s also — you’ll never guess — a radiant swan once her Coke-bottle glasses come off.

This is the approximate level of narrative sophistication we’re working with throughout, particularly in a long, lumbering middle act that forges farce from strained misunderstandings: Warren Dudley’s screenplay, which one has to assume has played fast and loose with Roberts’ life story, offers more relentlessly good cheer than it does actual wit. It’s the film’s two young stars, rather than their heavily mugging adult counterparts, who enliven the schematic proceedings: Baker, especially, whittles something brightly human from the unshaped stereotype she’s handed.

Tech credits are on the perfunctory end of televisual, betraying Kelly’s background directing such venerable British soaps as “Casualty” and “The Bill.” A soundtrack stuffed with 1960s British Invasion classics from the likes of Dusty Springfield and the Spencer Davis Group keeps things bouncy, even when the film’s oddly stiff pacing does not. 106 minutes is hardly a testing length, yet “The Bromley Boys” still feels as if it’s run significantly into extra time by its foregone feelgood conclusion. “It only takes 90 minutes to fall in love,” runs the poster tagline, referencing the traditional length of a soccer match: The film could stand to take its own advice.

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Film Review: 'The Bromley Boys'

Reviewed online, London, Aug. 15, 2019. Running time: 106 MIN.

Production: (U.K.) An Artist Rights Distribution (in U.S.) release of Hyde Park International production of an Itchy Fish production in association with Scanner Rhodes. Producers: T.J. Herbert, Dean Fisher. Executive producers: Charlie Wood, Jeff Clarke, Rob Graham.

Crew: Director: Steve Kelly. Screenplay: Warren Dudley, based on the book by Dave Roberts. Camera (color, widescreen): Bart Sienkiewicz. Editor: Kelly, Ben King. Music: Erran Baron Cohen.

With: Brenock O'Connor, Savannah Baker, Jamie Forman, Alan Davies, Martine McCutcheon, Adam Deacon, T.J. Herbert, Ross Anderson, Mark Dymond, Anna Danshina, Ewen Macintosh, Gareth Hale.

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