- Rated PG-13
All photos © First Indepenent
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
t’s not very often that you see a film so incredibly average that you find yourself with nothing to say, but that’s exactly the case with “Sixty Six,” a vanilla period drama that is neither good nor bad, but just okay. Continuing the British cinema tradition of basing a coming-of-age tale around a singular ethnicity or religion, “Sixty Six” is essentially a Jewish film that hopes to win over a larger audience by sugarcoating its story with a little nostalgia. It works for the most part, but while the film never gets so dull that you'll lose interest, it never does quite enough to win you over, either.
The film stars newcomer Gregg Sulkin as Bernie Rubens, a schoolyard outcast who’s always chosen last for PE soccer – even if that means the other team has to pick the kid with Polio first. Luckily, Bernie is only weeks away from what he believes to be the defining moment of his life – his bar mitzvah – and in order to make it so memorable that people couldn’t possibly not take notice, Bernie begins planning the celebration with the vigor of a bride planning her wedding. The date has been already set, but when Bernie learns that his bar mitzvah just so happens to take place on the same day of the 1966 World Cup Final, he begins to worry that no one will come. Friends and family assure him that the England team doesn’t have a chance, but as the underdogs slowly make their way through the tournament, Bernie’s guest list gets smaller and smaller.
There’s actually much more to the film than Bernie’s selfish obsession with the World Cup. At the core of the story is Bernie’s father, Manny (Eddie Marsan), an obsessive-compulsive dimwit who eats in his underwear to prevent stains, refuses to drive over 25 mph, and triple-checks everything he does. When Manny’s grocery store is forced to close down due to the opening of a bigger and better supermarket down the street, Bernie’s big celebration suffers. He looks at his dad like the embarrassed owner of a dog that can’t even perform a simple trick, while Manny hardly even notices his son, let alone recognizes what this big day means to him.
Both actors deliver effective performances, and even though Marsan’s character is almost impossible to like, he’s the reason for most of the comedy in the film. Unfortunately, most of those moments happen in the first 30 minutes, and as the story slowly edges towards its conclusion, the film gets increasingly more schmaltzy. Based on the semi-autobiographical events of director Paul Weiland’s own bar mitzvah woes, “Sixty Six” is one of those films where the concept is better than the film itself. The idea of paralleling Bernie’s own underdog status with that of the England soccer squad was a good one, but it’s never pulled off with the panache you would have hoped for. Not even Helena Bonham Carter’s subdued turn as Bernie’s mother helps the film rise above its middling nature, making “Sixty Six” completely forgettable – a result Weiland probably didn't have in mind when directing a film about one of England’s most memorable events of the past century.