What’s better than bathing your holiday woes, shrugging off a little bit of the stress, and generally basking in the flippant, irresponsibly boyish charm of this year’s latest romantic comedy, Playing for Keeps?
Starring Gerard Butler as a once-great, now down-on-his-luck professional soccer player named George, Playing for Keeps is a solid little formulaic movie that, if you let it, will charm you, make you laugh, and hopefully lift your spirits.
George (Butler) finds himself tossed from his once charmed life as a professional soccer player due to an injury that forced his early retirement. Unemployed, deeply in debt, and living in the guest house of a suburban Virginia home, George struggles to make a place for himself as a father to his pre-adolescence son, Lewis (Noah Lomax in his first feature film role). His ex-wife, Stacie (played by Jessica Biel), practically bends over backwards to accommodate George’s fumbling attempts to grow up and step up even as she’s preparing to be remarried.
Through the magic of romantic comedies, George unwittingly finds himself stepping into the role of coach to his son’s famously horrible soccer team. Soon, every soccer mom in Virginia begins to work their feminine wilds in an attempt to get into George’s … good graces. Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Judy Greer, hell, even Dennis Quaid are all over George the moment he steps foot on the turf.
It’s cringe-worthy to watch all of these women throwing themselves shamelessly at George, but it leads to some of the more laugh inducing moments of the film. Judy Greer stars as the emotionally unstable, anxious, and unsure Barb who breaks her “dry streak” through her relentless (and emotionally raw) pursuit of George. Catherine Zeta-Jones as the venerable Denise who, through her connections as a retired sportscaster, helps get George his big break at ESPN, but only because he becomes her lover.
The only woman unable to seal the deal with George is Patti (Uma Thurman), the trophy wife of wealthy, unstable Carl (Quaid). Showing George won’t bed a married woman is a ploy to get the audience to believe he has at least one scruple. The filmmaker’s hope you’ll chalk up his other antics to George being a man and you’ll ultimately find yourself pulling for him and his chances with his ex-wife, Stacie. I didn’t exactly buy it, but I suppose it makes for some sexy-time-romantic-comedy-fodder.
Poor George. How can he be expected to grow up with all of these beauties throwing themselves at him? And poor Stacie, George’s ex-wife (Biel) who, it is painfully clear, still loves the idiot despite his inability to keep his pants on. Biel’s performance is fragile and tender. Having watched her career since her days on 7th Heaven, it’s deeply satisfying to see her getting better roles. Her turn as Vera Miles in Hitchcock, for instance, is not to be missed.
In all of the chaos, it’s George’s son, Lewis, who pays the price time and again. It’s sad, but perhaps the one shred of realism and relatable content in a film filled with Ferrari’s and sexually willing/promiscuous and available women.
Butler seems to be familiar in his portrayal of George. Certainly no stranger to the role of the broken, emotionally unavailable suitor in the romantic comedy genre (P.S. I Love You, The Ugly Truth), Butler turns in a performance that is unsurprising but relatively solid. And, if you need another gentle nudge, he does, in fact, appear shirtless in the film.
Playing for Keeps – see it if you need a break from shopping this holiday season and you’re at the local cineplex. Otherwise, the sexual exploits of George and his beleaguered attempts to mature can wait until the film is available on DVD.
Official site: Playing for Keeps
Wiki facts: Playing for Keeps
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