Strong characters outlast cheesy moments

Footy Legends: 89 minutes, Rating: M
Director: Khoa Do, Starring: Anh Do, Claudia Karvan, Angus Sampson

Footy LegendsFirst, a confession: this reviewer showed up to see Footy Legends thinking he’d seen enough underdog sports films to last a lifetime. This is surely the most predictable of film genres: highs and lows on the sports field reflect highs and lows in the characters’ lives; ultimately, victories will be achieved both on and off the field, no doubt accompanied by soaring, inspirational music and just a dash of slow-mo. From Rocky II to The Mighty Ducks, we’ve seen this scenario countless times.

But preconceptions can be misleading. The unemployed lead characters in Footy Legends are a step removed from the street kids featured in writer/director Khoa Do’s previous film, The Finished People, but equally reflect Do’s interest in and empathy for the world’s downtrodden. In short, despite never straying from the all-too-familiar formula, Do directs this comedy/drama with such warmth it’s nearly impossible not to be charmed by it.

Khoa Do’s brother, Anh (Pizza), gives a convincing turn as Luc—a big-hearted but shy suburban Sydney local who needs to find work or risk losing custody of his 11-year-old sister Anne (Lisa Saggers). But finding work is easier said than done. In the midst of this rocky period of his life, and in desperate need of a shot of self-esteem, Luc decides to rally a bunch of his mates, former members of their formidable high school rugby league team, to try their luck in a prestigious local tournament.

Footy LegendsCue the rocky road to victory, inspirational music, slow-mo etc. But it works, thanks in no small part to its beautifully realised characters. The assembled cast represents a wide range of experience, from first-timers such as Saggers, to screen veteran Claudia Karvan—the epitome of graceful control in her role as the compassionate but pragmatic welfare officer assigned to Luc and Anne’s case.

While Anh Do struggles occasionally as a leading man (although he does have good range—the awkward Luc is a far cry from the sinister crim he played recently in Solo), Sampson brings a touch of comic sweetness as Luc’s buffoonish friend Lloydy, and an assortment of ‘unknowns’ from The Finished People add a layer of loose naturalism.

Footy LegendsSure, Footy Legends has its share of cheesy moments. It also suffers somewhat for the stilted choreography of the film’s rugby matches. Nonetheless, as a tribute to working-class Australian suburbia, and a good-natured reflection on the iconic ‘little Aussie battler’, it’s a film that will move and amuse in equal parts.



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