THE PHANTOM OF THE OPEN (2022)

June 16, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Scott Farnaby co-wrote the book with Scott Murray and then adapted that book into the screenplay directed here by Craig Roberts (ETERNAL BEAUTY, 2019). Mr. Farnaby also wrote the excellent screenplay for PADDINGTON 2 (2017), as well as for the upcoming Disney version of PINOCCHIO. Director Roberts is also known for his acting, taking the lead in the underrated SUBMARINE (2010).

We are informed that this is based on the true story of Maurice Flitcroft, a name you likely don’t recognize. Flitcroft (played here by Oscar winner Mark Rylance, BRIDGE OF SPIES) is known for posting the highest score in history at the 1976 British Open. He shot 121. It was the first round of golf he ever played. Now if you wonder how that could happen, the filmmakers are happy to explain. We meet Flitcroft as an unassuming crane operator at the shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness, a workplace he describes as “going in on your feet, and out in a box.” This is also where he meets and subsequently marries an unassuming secretary, and single mom, named Jean (played by the always great Sally Hawkins). The two marry and have twin sons to join Jean’s son, Michael.

There is really no need to dig in deep here as it’s a light-hearted, dry comedy based on an accidental celebrity who gained folk hero status over pursuing his dream … in a clueless and talentless manner. The big question remains: was Flitcroft a naïve man whose dream was inspired by watching a few holes of golf on TV, or was he a sly huckster who took a bit of enjoyment in sticking it to the system? Rylance gives the least subtle performance of his career as he dons a bucket hat and some protruding false teeth to create an exaggerated overbite that is as much of his character as the quirky facial expressions and down-to-earth philosophy he spews: “Practice is the road to perfection.”

Christian Lees and Jonah Lees appear as Maurice’s and Jean’s disco-dancing twins (and sometimes caddy), while Jake Davis stars as Michael, their more career-minded son. It’s an under-utilized Rhys Ifans who takes on the main villain role as the director of the British Open, and the man responsible for exposing and banning Flitcroft. Ash Tandon plays Lloyd Donovan, the journalist who sniffs out the Flitcroft story and actually follows through (like journalists once did) … even ten years later when the Flitcroft family is invited to the U.S. for the annual Maurice Flitcroft tournament, where the high score wins.

Isobel Waller-Bridge (EMMA., big sister to Phoebe of “Fleabag” fame) composed the score, and we do get archival footage of Maurice and family over the end credits. Perhaps EDDIE THE EAGLE (2015) is the best comparison for this film, as Flitcroft bore the label, “the worst golfer in the world” … something he vehemently denied. Maurice did manage to inspire others to follow their dreams, and his six sugars in tea may correspond to the level of saccharine the movie develops as it strives to be this year’s feel-good story – and we all know we need one.

Opens in theaters on June 17, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


ETERNAL BEAUTY (2020)

October 1, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. There is an odd line early on in which the psychologist says, “Don’t fight depression. Make friends with it.” What makes this an odd line is that Jane is a paranoid schizophrenic, and depression doesn’t seem to be a driving force in her life. Craig Roberts wrote and directed the film (his second feature as director). You might know Mr. Roberts as an actor. He played the lead in SUBMARINE (2010). His approach as a filmmaker is one that keeps the audience off-balance; in fact, we can simply state this one is weird.

Sally Hawkins (THE SHAPE OF WATER, 2017) plays Jane. She lives on her own thanks to medication. Her family is present, though not especially supportive. A flashback takes us to Jane’s wedding day where a younger Jane is played by Morfydd Clark (THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD, 2020). Jane is spurned on her wedding day by her husband-to-be, and it pushes her over the edge emotionally and mentally.

An early scene gives us a peek at current day Jane. She brings wrapped Christmas presents to her parents’ house, and promptly hands over the receipts to each family member. She purchased her own gifts, acts surprised and grateful as she opens them, and expects her parents and sisters to repay her for the gifts. It’s quite a scene.

We follow Jane through her days as she seems to drift in and out of awareness and reality. She periodically hears her phone ring, and by answering she hears the voice of her former fiancé. The red phones match the phone she was on during her last conversation with him on her wedding day. It’s her most painful and visceral memory, and one that Jane can’t seem to overcome.

Relationships between the parents and the sisters are quite something to behold. Penelope Wilton (THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, 2011) is the mother prone to cruelty and confusion, whereas the father (Robert Pugh, MASTER AND COMMANDER) nearly fades into the wallpaper, though seems more empathetic. Jane’s sisters Nicola and Alice are played by Billie Piper (“Penny Dreadful”) and Alice Lowe (GET DUKED!, 2020). Nicola envies Jane’s ability to collect free money (disability), while Alice is estranged from their mother, and claims her “normal” life is boring.

When Mike (David Thewlis from Charlie Kaufman’s latest, I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS) enters the picture, it’s like a jolt of electricity from touching the wrong wire. Mike is somehow stranger than Jane, yet they manage to connect. As an example of the film’s odd dialogue, when Jane asks Mike how things are going, he responds, “Things were looking up for a few weeks, a couple years back.” That’s the type of exchange we deal with throughout, and it takes an inordinate amount of energy to process what we see and hear.

One shot from cinematographer Kit Fraser is a particular standout. It comes from inside a microwave, replete with rotisserie base and Jane’s face peering through the glass. There are numerous moments we’ve not previously seen or heard in movies … like the doctor clarifying if the patient is “fine or good”. Ms. Hawkins delivers another strange, but affecting performance … something she has mastered over the years. She always makes the character hers, and makes us care about her. An added bonus is hearing Ricky Nelson sing “I Will Follow You” … slightly more soothing than David Thewlis’ frantic electric guitar performance. It seems certain that filmmaker Roberts agrees that normal is boring, and he ensures his film and characters are not.

watch the trailer: