Bad at golf, Mark Rylance? Join the club.
Before I tell my dad the name of the title, I have to let him know the biopic comedy-drama I’ve seen is about a British man named Maurice Flitcroft (1929-2007), who has been labeled “the world’s worst golfer.” Mainly, because of how doesn’t make much Fours, and earns a lot of points. Golf is basically the one sport where you want to have the least points to win.
The title of the biopic is “The Phantom of the Open,” and it stars Mark Rylance as Maurice, who would have gone pro in his youth if he didn’t fall for the stage actress and secretary Jean (Sally Hawkins), who has a little boy named Michael to raise. He marries her and they also raise a set of twins: Gene and James, and to make ends meet, he works as a a crane operator at the docks. It’s labeled as a comedy and drama, because of how it has a goofy tone and a serious consistency when telling the true story like it was, kudos to director Craig Roberts and writer Simon Farnaby.
Maurice’s golf urges come back to him, and he decides to play for the Open Championships, saying on the entry form that he’s a professional. Hitting a score of 121, Maurice is booted out of the competition by the heads of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club (R&A) (Rhys Ifans and Tim Steed), who both have images to keep. They’re not the only ones embarrassed, but also Michael (Jake Davies) is also on the line at his new job, where his bosses see his stepfather on TV, and are in the middle of scoring a major deal.
The humiliation thickens as Maurice poses a different people during the next few events, one of whom is a Frenchman, whose cover gets blown during the sand pits. It’s just fun the way Rylance is able to improvise and adapt to his surroundings.
The movie is supported by 70s music from Christopher Cross’ “Ride Like the Wind” to Average White Band’s “Pick Up The Pieces” to The Foundations’ “Build Me Up Buttercup,” all of which keep up with the movie’s comical and free-spirited appeal. And even Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven” playing could have something to do with the fact that Maurice’s twins (Christian and Jonah Lees) are both on the verge of becoming Disco champs until the 80s come in.
Sometimes, there have to be some silly shots of Maurice hitting the ball until it all comes crashing down, but the movie does have a silly attitude that makes us admire Rylance’s portrayal of Maurice Filtcroft. Inside and outside the golf tournaments, the actor is able to show audiences his vulnerabilities, as he deals with the outcomes of his hoaxing. He’s not a bad person; he just wants to play, even though he can’t make FOURs the way the professional can or get the lowest points possible. And despite the labeling, he doesn’t consider himself “the world’s worst golfer,” and that’s proof of his optimism.
Hawkins also has her patience as the wife, while Ifans provides the mannerisms, and Davies and the Lees twins are uniformly excellent as the grown up kids. They have moments of appeal and sentimentality, while half of them have to be the serious ones trying to make Maurice stop trying to be a pro.
“The Phantom of the Open” manages to overcome its weaknesses, and carries on a a movie for golf fans, and even those who haven’t played in a long time or ever. I haven’t played the game in a long time, but I’d like to go back one day. In the meantime, I have this movie to hold me at bay.
In Select Theaters This Friday