I'd never heard of this film, but its director's two previous movies had been Brassed Off and Little Voice. I'd heard of those. They're supposed to be quite good. All three are very Northern, but don't let that put you off.
The reason this one's less well-known, I'd guess, it's that its cast isn't famous and that it's neither uplifting or heartwarming. It's the story of two teenagers (Chris Beattie and Greg McLane) who do nothing all day but steal, take drugs and skive off school. They even admit that they're scum. "The guardian of fucking toerags, she'll see us through." However they're also mad about football, so one day they agree to give up smoking, drugs and glue-sniffing and instead dedicate themselves to the cause of one day buying Newcastle United season tickets. These cost five hundred pounds each, but that just means they'll have to do even more stealing!
Thus begins the pair's misadventures. The important thing, I think, is the film's tone. Theoretically it's going for something not unlike Ken Loach realism, yet it's also funny and entertaining. Compared with the rest of Newcastle, our heroes almost look heroic. Chris Beattie's father is loathsome and the only good thing about him is the fact that doesn't know where his wife and children live. (Every so often he finds out, whereupon bad things happen and the social services have to find them new and even more secret accommodation, like mafia informers who have to spend the rest of their lives undercover.) Someone gets a fifteen-year-old pregnant and a family member drops off the map and becomes a homeless junkie. This is not a Tourist Board view of England... but our heroes are basically good-hearted lads who are always up for a laugh. I liked them. I just wouldn't leave valuables lying around in their presence.
There's plenty of entertainment here. The Dog Psycho is a lot of fun, not to mention also being one of the scariest people in that year's movies. It's not a big role, but it doesn't need to be. Just look at him. Then there are adventures in babysitting. One particularly funny passage in the movie involves Beattie being blackmailed into two weeks of purgatory, aka. school.
On the other hand, there's the soccer. This was a cause for concern, but fortunately this isn't a football movie. That's merely the object of our heroes'obsession, with the film actually being more about the peculiarities and tribal culture of football fans, e.g. the rivalry between Newcastle and Sunderland. That was a good bit. It's a bit amazing to be shown how powerfully this sport is reshaping the hearts and lives not only of these two young people, but arguably of an entire culture. Incidentally, it took me a while to realise that the occasional cry of She-Ra you'll hear was really a reference to the football player Alan Shearer and not to, say, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.
The acting's impressive. Beattie and McLane carry the film like pros and I'm surprised that they didn't go on to have careers in the business. They're excellent. Admittedly they lose their footing in one scene where they're talking to a dog and Beattie is strangely flat in his "purely belter" speech in drama class at school, but there's a reason for the latter. Otherwise these are mature performances. Other actors include Kevin Whately from Inspector Morse as a bullying teacher and the wonderful Roy Hudd in a tiny but important role with almost no dialogue.
Overall, pretty good. It's based on a novel, The Season Ticket by Jonathan Tulloch. I haven't read it, but I liked this film. I thought it succeeded at what it was trying to do and managed to pull no punches about its brutal setting without itself being miserable or depressing. It could easily have been played that way, but it wasn't. (I've heard that the novel's incredibly grim, though.) It's fun. It entertained me. Beattie and McLane's characters seem doomed to turn out to be career criminals or worse, but there's enough good in them and their dreams that I enjoyed watching their idiot adventures. I presume Americans will be watching with the DVD's subtitles on, mind you.