The Movie Waffler New Release Review (DVD) - GRIDIRON UK | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review (DVD) - GRIDIRON UK

A gridiron fan attempts to form an American Football team in '80s Britain.

Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Gary Delaney

Starring: Michael Dixon, Andrew Harwood Mills, Dorsey Levens, Rebecca Summers, Mem Ferda

Like the ragbag group assembled over the course of this jolly little film, Gridiron UK is ramshackle, inexpert but ultimately winning, both a celebration of male silliness and a gentle mockery of male entitlement.

Alright, lads? Dust off your shell-suits, brush out your mullet and join us for a pint of Hofmeister as we journey back to Crewe circa 1985 via Gary Delaney’s cheap and cheerful Gridiron UK, an American football themed comedy improbably set in Cheshire. Hut hut hike!

Youngish Derek (Michael Dixon) is a dreamer who’s set the bar too high. He has a so-so job, a nice wife and a decent starter home, but he’s also got that specifically male itch, that urge for something more than his lot, which affects certain (ok, nearly all) fellas. His mates chastise him for his previous infatuations, (‘business empires’ and ‘pyramid schemes’), but this time Derek’s got the hots for football. And not the type of football where shampooed men tentatively kick about a spherical object, often halting play to fall to the ground, grip their ankle and make a right show of themselves, either. The football Derek is interested in is that strange transatlantic mutation, where Weetabix chomping fellas strap themselves into armour, ostensibly to chuck a leather egg about but seemingly more likely to butt helmets and pile drive each other into the churning ground. Will Gary’s hopes of setting up a team endzone in glory, or will he be touched down to earth?

Like the ragbag group Derek assembles over the course of this jolly little film, Gridiron UK is ramshackle, inexpert but ultimately winning. There’s that silly criterion that lesser film critics apply to comedies, a ‘laugh test’ wherein the film’s worth is judged by how many times the critic giggles at a film (an absurd measure: I just saw Blair Witch and ‘jumped’ about eight times, but the movie is still woeful). If I were to apply such a marker to Gridiron UK, then the film clearly crosses the goal line (it has an authentic way with dialogue: returning home after another setback, Derek’s wife asks him, ‘what’s up with you? You’ve been like a dog with no dick since you came in’- I’m having that one!). But more resonant than a few laughs, and surely a more reliable marker of artistic success in spite of the film’s occasional shortcomings, is the fuzzy 10 yard wide grin the film left me with.

If there is an issue with Gridiron UK it’s Derek himself. Not in the sense of Dixon’s sprightly and likeable performance, but that the actual character’s entire enterprise is wholly self-centred and is, as such, not easy to throw yourself behind. So as Derek spends money that he doesn’t have, gets involved with the local loan sharks and feeds his wife a load of bullshine, his goals seem a little subjective.

Gridiron UK’s closet model is a film like The Full Monty, another feel good comedy that bases its trajectory on underdog lads overcoming unlikely odds, but whereas in that film there was the motivation of Robert Carlyle’s band of blokes being recently unemployed, here Derek just suddenly fancies playing an American sport! Therefore, identification with Derek’s plight presumes a shared recognition of his attitude, of being the type of man who sometimes gets things in to their head and follows it through regardless of how ridiculous it makes them look to others (starting up an American football team here, but buying a motorbike or courting younger women IRL; the quixotic follies of being a bloke who won’t grow up).

It’s more instructive, then, to read Gridiron UK as a celebration of male silliness and a gentle mockery of male entitlement. Throughout the film there are many observations of the unreconstructed fella; as the team train there are various accusations of being a ‘poofta’ and mock terror of being involved in the proximity of the scrimmage, the sort of self-protective banter that unsteady males indulge in when they’re out of their comfort one. Of course, with Gridiron UK’s focus firmly placed on masculinity, the female characters are not up to much, and the film pointedly relegates most of them to cheerleading (!). Derek’s wife is (somewhat problematically) portrayed as little more much than a sour faced cow, although that representation perhaps suits Derek’s egocentricity, as we’re encouraged to see her as he does: bills, houses, family, boring innit! (It’s a thankless role for the appealing Rebecca Summers, though).

But the film also surprises - I loved the comedy loan shark duo, and I also appreciated how there was none of that ‘haha, the '80s was in the past’ bogus nostalgia on display. Derek’s mullet is played straight and actually looks good on him, period detail is sparsely effective (an ice cream van advertises ‘Cola Lollies 15p’) and the soundtrack leans heavily on the wondrous pop of the '80s, poignantly including ABC’s opulent, peerless paean to male heartbreak, All of My Heart. A film of two halves then but, at end of play, the lads of Gridiron UK done good.

Gridiron UK is on DVD October 3rd.