It’s sort of odd to see a summer romantic comedy released in December. But any football (soccer) fan knows you can play the sport in any weather, so it could still work. On the other hand, the two aspects of Playing for Keeps
are so inconsistent and of various quality that it’s often like watching two films simultaneously starring the same actors.
‘King’ George (Gerard Butler) was one of the best football players to take the field, retiring on a high note at 36. But his career had been a priority for so long, he’d already ruined his marriage to the love of his life, Stacie (Jessica Biel), and become an absent father to his son, Lewis (Noah Lomax). Recognizing the need for change, George follows his family to America where he has trouble making a fresh start as a sportscaster. Instead he’s given the opportunity to be a better father by coaching Lewis’ soccer team. But distractions in the form of a wealthy businessman (Dennis Quaid) and oversexed mothers (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Judy Greer and Uma Thurman) threaten his ability to prove he can be a better man.
There are two stories playing out within the narrative – one is about a father trying to reconnect to his son, and the other features poor female stereotypes throwing themselves at a handsome athlete. The first is touching and humorous as George tries to spend more quality time with his son, while trying to win back his ex-wife by convincing her he’s changed. In the meantime, George tries to unsuccessfully fend off the advances of several soccer moms. Each is a terrible representation of a type: the emotionally distraught divorcee; the unhappily married woman looking to get even; and the strong, independent woman. Unfortunately they are all irritating caricatures that interrupt the narrative every time they enter the screen. If they’d been more realistic, it would have made for a more cohesive film.
Nonetheless, the casting is flawless. Butler charms everyone with his Scottish accent, soccer skills and overall good nature. Biel is actually casted in an age appropriate role, unable to conceal the love she’s never stopped feeling for the father of her son. Quaid is an obnoxious man with too much many, which he uses to buy people’s agreement. Greer is always exceptional as the over-the-top neurotic, even though her tactics were out of place. Thurman, on the other hand, is only irritating in her desperation.
Most of the film is predictable, from the reaction of the women to George’s relationship with his son to the heartwarming conclusion. Still, it’s a relatively entertaining piece of fluff, but equally forgettable after leaving the theatre.
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Starring: Gerard Butler
, Jessica Biel
and Dennis Quaid