Title: Playing for Keeps
Director: Gabriele Muccino (‘The Pursuit of Happyness,’ ‘Seven Pounds’)
Starring: Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Dennis Quaid, Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Noah Lomax
Romantic comedies usually fare best when the main characters fully understand their need for redemption and change if they want to be with the person they love. Proving they can move beyond their past mistakes is also an important aspect to prove their worthiness of love. Unfortunately, the new romantic comedy ‘Playing for Keeps,’ which was helmed by Gabrielle Muccino, who’s mainly known for directing dramas and television series, fails to feature fully developed main characters driven by their experience. While the main character, George, does long for his old life with his ex-wife, the lack of explanation of their separation fails to provide any emotional drive for the two, or reasoning on why they should get back together.
‘Playing for Keeps’ follows George (played by Gerard Butler), a once-famous but now bankrupt soccer star, who moves from Scotland to Virginia, to be with his ex-wife, Stacie (portrayed by Jessica Biel), and their son, Lewis (played by Noah Lomax). Trying to move up for being an absentee father for most of Lewis’ life, George’s intention is to start over and improve his parenting skills. But he becomes heartbroken when Lewis tells him Stacie is set to remarry, to her boyfriend of three years, Matt (portrayed by James Tupper).
To prove he’s ready to truly be a father and commit to his son, George agrees to coach Lewis’ soccer team. But he quickly begins juggling the attention of the teams’s obnoxious sponsor, Carl (played by Deniss Quaid) and the town’s desperate housewives, including Denise, Carl’s wife Patti and Barb (portrayed by Catherine zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman and Judy Greer, respectively). Further driven by his desire to work as a sportscaster for ESPN, which is stationed in Connecticut, George must decide what’s truly important in his life.
Screenwriter Robbie Fox, who hasn’t created a story for a film since 1994′s comedy ‘In the Army Now,’ unfortunately failed to create complex characters who are truly looking for redemption in the new romance comedy. The film chronicles George’s struggle at coming to terms that Stacie is set to marry someone else, but never fully explains what he did to drive them apart in the first place. Seeing Stacie set to marry someone else, George tries to move on with his romantic life by having meaningless flings with the mothers of the kids on the soccer team. While at times mourning the ending of his relationship with his ex-wife, he never truly takes the time to explore his true feelings for her or admit that he made the wrong choices in life. While serving as the movie’s main protagonist, George just assumes that his past mistakes will automatically be forgiven by his family upon his arrival in Virginia, and is at times oblivious to the work that he needs to put into his relationships.
While Butler does bring his natural charm to the character of George, he unfortunately has little romantic chemistry with Biel. Since the two actors have a 13-year age difference in real life, their different outlooks on, and experiences in, life subconsciously infiltrates into their characters. While not much backstory is provided on Stacie, Biel portrays her as believing in the innocence of love, and wanting to be with someone who respects her and her life with Lewis. While George does want to spend time with his son, and make up for the time he missed with him, George is still also very career-driven. He believes becoming a sportscaster will redeem him and bring him back to his glory days when he was still playing soccer; it isn’t until he starts spending quality time with Lewis that he realizes his family is more important than any job.
Despite the at-times awkward moments between George and Stacie as he tries to fix his relationship with Lewis, Butler does offer some comedic moments in the otherwise underdeveloped script and characters. From George physically fighting with Carl at one of their sons’ soccer games, over Carl’s belief the soccer coach is having an affair with Patti, to George anxiously trying to avoid the continued advances of the soccer moms, Butler understood the humorous situations his character inadvertently put himself into, and while he takes his relationship with his son seriously, he also understands the humor in his life.
While Muccino is primarily known for helming the well-received Will Smith-starring dramas ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ and ‘Seven Pounds,’ the filmmaker unfortunately failed to recapture the same sentimental family dynamic in his new romantic comedy. From the underdeveloped character backstories to the lack of true passion between Butler and Biel, ‘Playing for Keeps’ fails to show the real importance of trust, forgiveness and family relationships. While Butler does, at times, save the one-denominational characters and storyline with his comedic charm, the film doesn’t feature enough sentiment or chemistry to make up for the lack of emotional depth.
Written by: Karen Benardello