“The Phantom of the Open” belongs to a really specific model of British comedy: twee, true tales of plucky underdogs undertaking outrageous acts towards the percentages. Suppose “Calendar Girls,” “Eddie the Eagle,” or “Military Wives.” The humorless naysayers of society doubt them and mock them to mask their very own insecurities, however, nonetheless, these true believers trudge on towards their unlikely future. The tone is normally dryly cheeky, and possibly even a bit naughty, however finally these movies give in to their best and most crowd-pleasing instincts earlier than dissolving in a pile of sentimental goo.
Mark Rylance dons a colorful argyle vest and jaunty purple bucket hat to play Maurice Flitcroft, who infamously shot the worst spherical in the British Open historical past in 1976. You see, he didn’t belong there. He was a crane operator at a shipyard in working-class Barrow-in-Furness. He faked his manner into the celebrated match by fudging the paperwork, albeit in a good-natured trend. His sweetly adoring spouse, Jean (Sally Hawkins), even helped him with this job, benignly making up solutions to questions on his handicap and such. He didn’t comprehend it was fallacious, the movie suggests. He simply needed to play golf—one thing he’d by no means really executed in his life. And he turned into a celebrated determine within the course of.
However director Craig Roberts—working from a script by Simon Farnaby, based mostly on Farnaby and Scott Murray’s biography of Flitcroft—by no means actually will get to the guts of Flitcroft’s pursuit. Why does golf, of all actions, turn into his sudden obsession? We see him witness Tom Watson profitable the Open on tv in 1975. However, what was it about this victory in this sport that was so transfixing? That essential piece to understanding him feels lacking; without this nugget of character growth, “The Phantom of the Open” is simply an ethereal, formulaic lark, with a particularly mannered Rylance efficiency in the middle. His thick accent does a lot of the appearing for him, with a wholesome sprinkling of quirks and tics. He’s simply tremendous sunny and cute in each circumstance. Might Flitcroft actually have been so irrepressibly optimistic? A suspension of disbelief in his childlike innocence solely goes up to now.
There’s even much less to Hawkins’ character. Apart from a number of tender moments between her and Rylance, she’s frustratingly caught functioning because of the doting, supportive spouse, and never a lot else. The truth that she is aware of even much less about golf is performed for easy laughs. In the meantime, Rhys Ifans is singularly smug and villainous as the top of the British Open who’s continuously chasing Flitcroft out; he’s the Wile E. Coyote to Rylance’s Roadrunner.
Flitcroft’s story was wild, however, there’s a lot crazier film right here that “The Phantom of the Open” hints at but by no means totally embraces. Roberts dabbles in magical realism, akin to when Flitcroft imagines the Earth is a golf ball he’s orbiting. He additionally tries to jazz up the story with muscular filmmaking strategies like whip pans and daring needle drops, which looks like he’s doing Craig Gillespie doing Paul Thomas Anderson doing Martin Scorsese. (A few of them are distractingly anachronistic, akin to when Flitcroft and his buddy/caddy steal a golf cart and attempt to escape a match they’ve sneaked into with Christopher Cross’ “Ride Like the Wind” blaring within the background. This occurs in 1978; the music wouldn’t come out till two years later. Nitpicky? Perhaps just a little, however in concept, they’re making an attempt to invoke a particular time interval.)
No, the truth that Flitcroft would place on wigs and mustaches and enter varied tournaments below hilariously terribly pseudonyms like Gene Paycheki, Arnold Palmtree, and Depend Manfred von Hoffmanstel is a much more fascinating story. And he did this for years! There’s sly, playful caper mendacity in wait right here—one thing alongside the traces of “Catch Me If You Can,” maybe. As an alternative, “The Phantom of the Open” takes the protected route and turns feel-good. Flitcroft turned a cult hero to struggling golfers in every single place, the movie reveals to us, culminating in a heart-tugging scene of tearful household reconciliation.
With its amusing coaching montages, colorful supporting characters, and uplifting message of perseverance, “The Phantom of the Open” does precisely what you count on it would in essentially the most acquainted, comforting method conceivable. It earns the politest of golf claps.