It’s hard to truly comprehend just how much of an institution soccer (or “football” literally anywhere else but here, to which I will be referring to it as) is beyond the American borders. Throughout Europe, Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Australia, the devotion of football fans trumps any and every other care in the world, to a borderline religious degree. To see the phenomenon from the perspective of the largest country on Earth who couldn’t care less about the sport manifests a feeling of social exclusion that even pretending to care during each World Cup can’t even fix.
So, when it comes to being able to relate to The Bromley Boys, off the bat, I’m at a disadvantage. This is a film made for longtime football fans by longtime football fans, looking to capture the childlike nostalgia of growing into the institution of football as a rite of passage to adulthood. This is an experience that I did not have. As a child, I wasn’t even a fan of popular American sports, let alone unpopular ones. As much as my father tried and tried to get me to love American football, or golf, or baseball, or literally anything other sport that he could get his hands on for me, it all was for naught (though, I am slowly finding myself enjoying hockey quite a bit as of late). Because of this, sports movies of any kind are often wasted on me, but there’s something about the view into how other countries and cultures celebrate sports in their own society that always fascinates me, and it’s what drew me to The Bromley Boys.
The time is 1969, the place is Bromley, Kent, England, and David Roberts (Brenock O’Connor, Game of Thrones) is a bright-eyed and bushy-browed 15-year-old with a passion for football. The only issue plaguing David is that his small town home team, the Bromley Football Club, is one of the worst teams in their league with no signs of getting better anytime soon. Faced with no choice but to support the waning team, David dreams up a plan to find a way to use his extensive knowledge of football to become the team’s manager. Standing in his way are his loving, yet strict parents (Alan Davies and Martine McCutcheon), the team’s curmudgeonly owner Mr. McQueen (Jamie Foreman), and his daughter, Ruby (Savannah Baker), whom David begins to develop an intrusive crush on.
On paper, The Bromley Boys doesn’t sound like a particularly exciting film, and for much of the film’s runtime, it isn’t. While it has charm to spare, it’s easy to understand how this film is a hard sell to American audiences unfamiliar with the ins and outs of football. The technical approach to football, from an off-field managerial perspective, is not something that outsiders can just jump into without any prior knowledge, which led much of the film’s first half to feel like it was in a foreign language. Regardless, as the film goes on, the audience can pick up more and more of what it wants to say beyond just satisfying the football fans. It’s a film that humanizes, but doesn’t seek to diminish, the power that football has on the world, and that even a small town, no stakes team can be the catalyst in harnessing that power. It’s a unique message for a family-oriented sports film to take, and it takes its sweet time getting to the point, but oddly, the destination was satisfying enough to make up for the sometimes-arduous journey The Bromley Boys.
O’Connor is the star of the show here, with a touching performance that, while sometimes grating in the middle act, has a soul to it that has to make you think how much of his own love of football is injected into the role. Admittedly, the film does give him a chance to shine because there are a *lot* of supporting characters that do come together by the end of the film’s short 100-minute runtime. While no performance is overtly bad, there are few chances for the cast to be able to shine when they have to share the screen with so many other personalities.
The film also lacks a sharp tongue beyond the realm of football. The dialogue in the film does wade into rudimentary territory at times to force the storyline to go in a certain direction, effectively pulling the audience out of a story that, while often dry, does have genuine heart to it. These moments made it feel like the film lacked any real stakes. Up until the final 20 minutes of the film, it feels like it’s always in its first act, simply setting the scene for the final act to take place, and fair bit of body is lost in between. The build feels awkwardly off and, when the film ends, leaving the audience with a fuzzy feeling of warmth, they also have that feeling of “That’s it?” itching at the back of their minds, even if they want to fight it to feel more of that fuzzy feeling.
And that was the point when I knew that, whatever my issues with the screenplay, or the sometimes cheap-feeling direction of the film, The Bromley Boys did its job right. I am the last person that this film was made for, one who has no nostalgic connection to the world of English football, nor any actual knowledge of the sport beyond the basic “you kick the ball in the goal” mentality, and it still got me in the end. I, despite all my best cynical efforts, was in my feelings come the final frame. It’s not perfect, but when things come together, you don’t need to have that connection to enjoy the film, you just have to be open to the passionate nature of it. It doesn’t matter what you love, The Bromley Boys, in its imperfect nature, reminds you of how fun it is to love something.
In select theaters beginning August 19th, 2019.
Final score: 3 out of 5.