“Sixty Six” is an overcooked Christmas cake. And director Paul Weiland allows his corpulent impulses to overwhelm what could have been a charming gem of a film. Coated in sticky-sweet icing but filled with darker themes, the movie is so stuffed with competing ideas and tones that it regrettably collapses in on itself.
Bernie Rubens (Gregg Sulkin) is a North London lad in 1966 with the ignominious fate that his bar mitzvah could fall on the World Cup final day, which England, he hopes, won’t make. We first meet Bernie in a bittersweet scene as he’s picked last for his gym class football team. And if the film had been satisfied with this concise concept, a small but sincere story regarding a young man‘s anxious months-long journey towards his important day, “Sixty Six” had a chance to be special. But it throws in an obsessive compulsive, depressive dad (Eddie Marsan) who with his brother runs a fruit and veg shop which is under threat from a national competitor. And the drama keeps being heaped on, till the movie topples over from the weighty matters. The project would have been well served by a more frugal Weiland tossing out several of the dramatic elements and reigning in writers Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan from their sweeping impulses.
But Weiland suffers from a difficulty shifting between the serious and lightheaded. Therefore, the switch between the joyful and sad moments just feels jumbled. It’s not as though people don’t wade through life with a plethora of tumultuous events but this film does it so jarringly that the emotional see-saw feels exploitive. At times, scenes seem plunked in for the sole reason that a very light moment must be followed quite suddenly by an intense one. The tragedy especially doesn’t feel connected to the basic story but instead tagged on to simply prompt an audience reaction. It’s a scattershot approach which similarly bewitched a movie like “The Full Monty.”
The treatment of the father’s character is particularly perplexing. He’s more than simple quirky; he’s a troubled, damaged, and peculiar man. But the film treats his mental health like so many swings and roundabouts. The father’s depressive malaise, which leads him to be hospitalized, can be brushed aside, the film appears to suggest, with a glorious extra time goal. Marsan does a commendable job with a character undermined by oversimplification.
In the final reel, the film dissolves into a scenario so soaked in fantasy it‘s laughable. Let’s just say that there’s not a chance in Hull City FC that the dad could have snagged tickets to that football match in the manner in which he does. The scene could have worked if Weiland had incorporated an airy, nostalgic mood throughout. Plainly, it would have been a fitting resolution if the film had been steeped in a whimsical, fantastical tone from the onset. But, as presented in this film, the untenable ending is utter tosh.
The cast can’t be faulted for any of the film’s shortcomings. Helen Bonham Carter is endearing against type as Bernie’s self-possessed mum. Playing Bernie’s aunt, British comedienne Catherine Tate again proves that in roles outside of her own creation she is a genuine actress. And Peter Serafinowicz, a tangential member of Simon Pegg’s comic entourage and a phenomenal mimic in his own right, provides a good natured turn as Bernie’s cheeky uncle.
It’s disappointing to see a film like “Sixty Six” miss an opportunity, a sitter, really, because along with the cast there are highlights in the presentation as well. Both the art and set direction by Lynne Huitson and Jille Azis are redolent with a Swinging London vibe. Rebecca Hale’s costume design is equally adept at capturing the more outrageous fashions of the time and the simplest of school uniforms.
There’s a better film here if Weiland had trimmed the excess. Too bad there won’t be a second helping.