Movie Review by Simon Fox
Starring: Eddie Marsan, Helena Bonham Carter, Stephen Rea, Catherine Tate
Director: Paul Weiland
England 1966. A nation gripped by World Cup fever. The entire country willing their national team on to World Cup glory.
Everyone that is, apart from one twelve year-old boy.
Bernie Ruben (Gregg Sulkin) is about to turn 13 and celebrate the most important day in any Jewish boys life, his Bar Mitzvah. But far from being the centre of attention, Bernie’s dysfunctional family are all engrossed in their own problems. His father Manny (Eddie Marsan) is more concerned about the new supermarket opening opposite his grocery store, while his mother (Helena Bonham Carter) barely seems to notice him, paying more attention to his deviant older brother. But Bernie is convinced that his Bar Mitzvah will change all that. He will finally become a man and stop being the little kid that everyone ignores.
However, things begin to go badly wrong from the outset. After his fathers savings go up in smoke (literally) the venue for Bernie’s Bar Mitzvah diminishes daily, from a lavish reception hall, to a community centre and finally to his parents living room. Furthermore, Bernie realises with mounting horror that his Bar Mitzvah is scheduled to fall on the same day as the World Cup Final. Terrified that no one will turn up, Bernie becomes probably the only person in the country hoping that England get knocked out of the competition. Despite his pleas, his parents flatly refuse to change the day. All the arrangements have already been made, and of course as everybody knows, England don’t have a chance of making it to the final, do they…?
Based on the experiences of director Paul Weiland, SIXTY SIX cleverly weaves together a number of themes into its narrative. On one level, it’s a nostalgic look back at the World Cup of 1966. More significantly, it’s a story about growing up, adulthood, and responsibility. By the end of the film, it’s not only Bernie who grows up. His father also learns to take on the responsibility that goes with his position and becomes the father that Bernie wants him to be.
The film also features some great performances from an excellent cast. Helena Bonham Carter is superb as Bernie’s fraught but level headed mother. Eddie Marsan gives a wonderfully understated performance as Manny, and has real chemistry with his co-star. Full marks as well for Gregg Sulkin as Bernie in his screen debut, demonstrating just the right mixture of bewilderment, selfishness and vulnerability for a child his age. Appearances from Catherine Tate as an eccentric aunt and Richard Katz as Bernie’s blind rabbi add a further touch of class to the proceedings.
The film features some great comic moments, for example a hilarious scene where the family are reduced to hiring an Irish folk band for the Bar Mitzvah reception, and a disastrous day out with Bernie and his dad. The film is also narrated by Bernie so we see everything through his adolescent eyes, such as how he sees his family, and his ever more extravagant Bar Mitzvah fantasies.
On the downside, there are some weaknesses with both the characters and plot. The excellent Stephen Rea doesn’t have much to do as the doctor treating Bernie for asthma. The idea of him being a surrogate father figure to Bernie is underdeveloped and underwritten, and doesn’t really go anywhere.
Some of the plot is also a bit contrived. For instance in one scene Manny decides to walk out on his family, but then changes his mind when he just happens to come across his brother who has had a serious accident. Also being able to just walk into Wembley stadium during the World Cup final as Manny and Bernie do stretches credibility a bit too far.
But these are minor quibbles with a film that succeeds on nearly every level.
A thoughtful, intelligent film, SIXTY SIX is a poignant, often hilarious, and sometimes sad look at what it means to grow up, and the responsibilities that come with adulthood.