Golf has been a curiosity, partially because I can’t play the game to save my life; I duff and divot when I should reach for the stars. Trust me when I say I can never go back to Top Golf. Heck, I don’t think there’s a mini-golf course that would take me in. I can watch golf with my dad on Sundays and review films such as The Phantom of the Open, opening in select theaters this weekend.
Mark Rylance stars as Maurice Flitcroft, a crane operator in Scotland. Flitcroft is a dreamer, but not without passion. His first passion is his wife, Jean, played by Sally Hawkins, who has three children from a prior relationship, Michael (Jake Davies), Gene (Christian Lees), and James (Jonah Lees). Maurice is a family man who gives all he can to his beautiful wife and her three kids.
Now it is his turn to follow his dreams.
Set in the late 70s, Flitcroft would make a name for himself on the international stage as one of the world’s worst golfers, first appearing in the British Open with an above 100 score. Rylance relishes the role, touching both his comedic timing and dramatic flair; both remain demure, as is Rylance’s fashion. The tee is replete with soft-spoken wisdom and knowledge; even if he doesn’t have a total sense of who he is, his true north is honorable, summing up his handicap. Flitcroft attracts a sordid sort in his efforts to be recognized as an amateur professional, much to the dismay of the Open’s organizers. At one point, they lay such a deep sand trap for the character that Flitcroft disguises himself to continue to play, often with hilarious results.
Craig Roberts (Jane Eyre, 22 Jump Street, The Current War) directs a sprite, comedic take on the golfer’s misadventures that are less cynical about the sport and more about a family’s support of each other. The film has a cinematic quality, as Flitcroft dreams his way toward his destiny, evoking a bit of a Terry Gilliam aesthetic, playing into the cast’s strengths.
Simon Farnaby’s script is as breezy as the winds that dot the links. The story uses the fantastic elements to convey how Maurice and Jean first meet, how Maurice gets his golf game up to par, and, more importantly, the familial bogeys that Maurice must confront. The letter exchange between Flitcroft and the organizers of the British Open was very formal, wildly hilarious, and unapologetic.
As a son, Davies’ performance as Michael was the most challenging to watch; Michael has the unenviable task of having to choose between defending the company and life he lives and his awkward dad on the telly, making a fool of himself. The dialogue makes a point to paint Michael into a corner, resolving itself humorously and touchingly. Conversely, Gene and James are encouraged to shoot for the stars. For a time, they all succeed in one fashion or another.
Being true to life, Roberts uses televised footage of the events that Flitcroft participated in, and Michael was an advisor on the film.
Remarkably, the family converges in the tightest quarters when reality comes crashing down. That is not the end of the story. Farnaby, as in real life, offers the ultimate tale of underdogs and their second chances. Through the phantoms, persistence, practice, and ultimately fate pays off in unique ways. Contrast this to the film’s end when the family is brought back together in the most open of environments, full of acceptance, grace, and even a dose of humility.
Everything, it seems, happens for a reason.
The Phantom of the Open uses its handicap to its advantage, namely the cast. The humor and the family spirit, though, are what sell the rough Flitcroft experiences.
It is par for the course.