When brilliant British (and Australian) filmmakers who cut their teeth in comedy are given somewhat free reign to tell stories on a larger scale, we get beautiful things. And so many of the new guard of British writers and directors come from goofy and humble beginnings. I don't think this is a secret, but "Paddington" and "Paddington 2" are a pair of the finest family movies ever made...at least since "Babe" and "Babe 2: A Pig in the City."
Then take "The Phantom of the Open," a movie I might otherwise not care less about since I haven't connected with a golf film since "Happy Gilmore," but I saw it simply because of its pedigree, and I'm so glad I did. Hang out for a sec while I get nerdy and granular.
My favorite British comedy of all time is a little-seen 2009 film called "Bunny and the Bull" by writer/director Paul King. King came from two of the greatest British comedies since Monty Python was a thing: "The Mighty Boosh" and "Garth Marenghi's Darkplace" and then directed the two "Paddington" movies after "Bunny and the Bull." King now has a Willy Wonka movie coming out next year.
Bunny in "Bunny and the Bull" is played by Simon Farnaby, who not only acted in "The Mighty Boosh," the "Paddington" films and co-created and stars in the modern classic series "Ghosts," but he also wrote "The Phantom of the Open" and Paul King's upcoming "Wonka" movie.
"Phantom of the Open" was directed by Craig Roberts, the 31-year-old wunderkind who starred in 2010's "Submarine," written and directed by the British treasure Richard Ayoade, who also played a role in "Bunny and the Bull" and co-created "Darkplace" and "The Mighty Boosh."
Can you picture me standing in front of a cork board with a bunch of strings connecting all of these brilliant minds together? Farnaby, King, Roberts, Ayoade and company will be remembered as groundbreaking British film pioneers and "The Phantom of the Open" will be a lovely little bulletpoint in the middle of Farnaby's and Roberts' already astounding careers.
"With a cast led by the always welcome Mark Rylance (who continues to impress after his memorable turns in "Dunkirk" and "The Trial of the Chicago 7") and the luminous Sally Hawkins (who also starred in the "Paddington" films), "The Phantom of the Open" is a funny, heartwarming and deliriously well-directed blend of magical realism and bio-pic. I wasn't familiar with the story of Maurice Flitcroft and his legendary appearance at the 1976 Open Championship and normally I wouldn't have been very interested, but Farnaby (who literally wrote the book "Flitcroft") and Craig Roberts got my butt in the seat.
And I'm really glad I watched it. It's a lovely little movie with a big heart that uses some brand-new filmmaking techniques to make the film feel like it was made back in 1976. Farnaby knows how to write a crowdpleaser without crossing the line into corniness and Roberts balances between cringe humor and heartwarming like a master which, at 31, is fairly remarkable.
I brought up all the bonafides of "The Phantom of the Open" not to try to fill your brain with as much useless information as mine has, but because if you saw the trailer and thought it was just a lightweight golf comedy, I wanted to share that some of the greatest minds in British comedy are behind this lovely little movie. From my perspective, that's a touchdown... or swish, or whatever.
"The Phantom of the Open"
Dir. Craig Roberts
Now playing at Tin Pan Theater