There are movies that hit you right in the "feels."
The Phantom of the Open is one of those films.
A relentlessly good-hearted and gently humorous motion picture, The Phantom of the Open is based upon the real-life story, yet another story that makes me think I should have grown up in the U.K., of one Maurice Flitcroft. In 1976, Flitcroft managed to gain entry into the British Open qualifying tournament despite having only taken up golf the year prior and despite, well, not actually being that good. Flitwick subsequently shot a of 121, the highest score ever in Open history, and became a wee bit of a British sports folk legend.
Undeniably reminiscent of the equally endearing Eddie the Eagle, The Phantom of the Open is written by Paddington 2 scribe Simon Farnaby and carries with it that film's sense of whimsy, heart, and an abundance of good cheer. There isn't a single moment of The Phantom of the Open that I didn't love. This is a film for relentless optimists and even more relentless dreamers. Farnaby co-wrote a biography of Flitcroft with Scott Murray and his literary stylings are sublimely suited to Craig Roberts's slightly more subversive yet equally as inspired helming of the film.
The Phantom of the Open is gifted with the presence of two of the very best character actors and ensemble performers working today - Mark Rylance and Sally Hawkins. While both are typically known for their immersive ensemble work, both also shine when given the chance to be front-and-center of that ensemble as happens here. Rylance finds all the quirks yet also all the soul of Maurice, digging deeper to understand the motivations of a man who'd always dreamed of a bigger life than he ever really achieved in a tangible sense. Rylance's Maurice is everything you want Maurice to be - a quiet sort of anti-classism underlying this feel-good sports story and even more feel-good story about Maurice's feel-good family.
Indeed, Sally Hawkins brought me to tears more than once as Maurice's wife Jean, a single mother when the two met and a woman whose support for her husband's seemingly unrealistic dreams never wavered. Jean could have been so easily seen through a caricaturish lens, however, Hawkins is far too gifted as an actress and more than once even just the way that she looks at Maurice made me think "Oh my. I want a love like that."
Jake Davies shines as Maurice and Jean's son Michael, who would grow into the management role to which his father always aspired. Christian and Jonah Lees are terrifically inspired as twin siblings quietly chasing their own dreams of being disco dancers.
The Phantom of the Open seems to be saying "Chase those dreams! Chase those dreams!"
The wonderful Rhys Ifans is also here as stuffy tour official Keith Mackenzie. Again, Ifans manages to keep the film's tiptoeing into farce from ever becoming an outright caricature.
Lensing by Kit Fraser envelopes us in the 1970s as does the original music by Isobel Waller-Bridge. There's an accompanying soundtrack featuring the likes of ABBA's Money Money Money, The Foundations' Build Me Up Buttercup, and a host of others that are used quite perfectly.
I occasionally reminisced about my beloved Paddington 2, one of my favorite films of all-time, while watching The Phantom of the Open. While The Phantom of the Open never quite achieves that film's greatness (few films ever have), it's a quiet work of wonder that I instantly wanted to watch all over again. The Phantom of the Open also made me reflect upon my own history long before film journalism entered my life, a history that includes this paraplegic/double amputee completing Indy's 500 Festival Mini-Marathon on crutches and subsequently recording the nationally recognized race's slowest time ever.
My own record that continues to this day.
I loved The Phantom of the Open. I loved everything about it. I loved its look. I loved its feeling. I loved its ensemble. I loved Simon Farnaby's inspired and intelligent and endearing and quite wonderful script. I loved Craig Roberts's well-informed and richly human direction that both celebrates this unusual chap while also recognizing his quirks. I loved this family and I love those who choose to celebrate the people like Maurice Flitcroft who remind us to chase our dreams and never give up.
The Phantom of the Open is currently in a limited nationwide release here in the U.S. with Sony Classics and is due to arrive here in my hometown of Indy on June 24th.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic