Director Paul Weiland's slight comedy-drama revolves around a 12-year-old who has the misfortune to find his much-anticipated bar mitzvah falling on the same day as the 1966 World Cup Final.
Myopic, asthmatic Bernie Ruben (Gregg Sulkin) is the runt of his North London family, bullied at school, tormented by his outgoing older brother, Alvie (Ben Newton), and benignly ignored by his parent. Bernie's morose, phobic father, Manny (Eddie Marsan, who bears a distinct hangdog resemblance to American actor Tony Shaloub), has spent his own life in the shadow of his genial, glad-handing younger brother, Jimmy (Peter Serafinowicz), and Manny's wife, Esther (Helena Bonham Carter), has her hands full with Manny's moods and miseries. Bernie feels invisible, and the only ray of hope in his miserable existence lies in having the splashiest bar mitzvah in North London: For once he'll be the center of attention, showered with gifts and basking in the adulation of his hand-picked guests – all 250 some odd of them. But fate conspires against his grand plans, starting with the fact that the event is scheduled for July 30, the date of the last game of the World Cup soccer championship. England hasn't made it to the finals in more than 30 years, but this year they've got an unusually strong line-up and stand a chance. Bernie isn't the slightest bit interested in sports, but knows that if England qualifies, no-one will be coming to his bar mitzvah. As Bernie tries to will the English team to lose – unsuccessfully, as soccer fans will know going in and everyone else will quickly guess -- his family is beset by a series of trials. A new supermarket threatens to put Rubens and Son Greengrocers out of business and Jimmy, whose finances are in better shape than Manny's, emerges from the forced buyout with the means to invest in another business. The proud and increasingly embittered Manny is reduced to working for his younger sibling, and Manny and Esther's finances and marriage are further strained by a house fire. With every setback Bernie's bar mitzvah shrinks, along with whatever hope he had that it might mark the beginning of a brighter future.
Though inspired by Weiland's own childhood, the film's plot sticks close to the underdog's coming-of-age formula and is marred by young Bernie's gratingly self-pitying voice-over. But strong performances – including veteran Irish actor Stephen Rea's turn as Bernie's pulmonary specialist -- and a terrific '60s pop soundtrack help mitigate the cliches, while the costumes and production design evoke a strong sense of time and place without looking mannered.
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