The Match (La Partita) is another film for Netflix’s ever-growing pile of international content. The Italian comedy-drama is the first feature-length effort by director Francesco Carnesecchi (credited as Frank Jerky), who may have his work cut out for him: making a soccer movie that stands out from the many, many Euro soccer movies out there.
THE MATCH: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: The suburbs of Rome. Sporting Roma is a hapless football club that has never ever ever ever won diddly-crap in decades. Decades! It’s game-day, the last game of the season. A paltry crowd gathers to shout and squabble with each other as the teams face off on the dusty dirt pitch. Antonio (Gabriele Fiore) seems to be the star player, outrunning his opponents and juking them out of their cleats, but his shots on goal sail over the fence as if he’s aiming for the moon. Curious. Coach Claudio (Francesco Pannofino) is flustered. Roma’s getting its corn royally creamed — 3-0 at halftime.
Antonio’s father, Paolo (Fabrizio Sabatucci), watches the game intently. His wife calls to get on his case for skipping their niece’s first Communion. Team president Italo (Alberto Di Stasio) sits in the club bar; he can’t bring himself to watch the game. Italo’s son, Leo (Daniele Mariani), is a slickhaired douchetype who’s hooked on cocaine; he wants to spend 50,000 euros to cover the humble, filthy field with artificial turf. Claudio calls his wife, who’s pregnant; she holds the phone to her belly hoping he can hear the baby kick, but of course he can’t hear it, don’t be ridiculous.
Two plot balls drop so this isn’t just another game for Sporting Roma to lose. Turns out Italo bet the entirety of the club that they’ll win. Coincidentally, Paolo bet on them to lose — and told Antonio to throw the game. So there will be multiple levels of winning and losing today, literally, morally and metaphorically.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: I recently saw a wacky kids/crummy team soccer comedy called Los Futbolisimos, and The Match exists somewhere between that quasi-Bad News Bears flick and something much more serious like, I dunno, The Damned United I guess.
Performance Worth Watching: Surrounded by a fair amount of histrionic overacting, Pannofino — even as a blustery coach — gives the movie’s most measured performance.
Memorable Dialogue: “I want to smell shit out there! And I want to smell it for 45 minutes!” — the two best lines from coach Claudio’s halftime pep talk that I’m not sure even make sense in context
Sex and Skin: Clothed shot-from-the-waist-up backseat-of-the-car commingling.
Our Take: Carnesecchi shows significant storytelling ambition — character asides, a few robustly written soliloquies, a cleverly executed time-hopping narrative and a multi-layered plot structure with strong thematic potential make sure The Match isn’t your typical dramedy.
Yet the filmmaker struggles to draw convincing performances from his cast, draws out scenes as if padding the run time and can’t settle on a consistent tone, veering wildly from heavy drama to wacky comedy. Injured soccer players wail like children when injured; comic timing is substituted with mugging; a moment of significant life-or-death impact nearly butts up against an absurd food-fight sequence (and I needn’t remind you that food-fight sequences are acts of comic desperation). Carnesecchi shows significant potential as a feature director — the ending proves as much — but the film just never comes together as a convincing and satisfying whole.
Our Call: SKIP IT. The Match is too inconsistent as a drama or comedy to warrant a recommendation.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.
Stream The Match on Netflix