VOD film review: Let the Girls Play
James R | On 16, Feb 2019
Director: Julien Hallard
Cast: Max Boublil, Vanessa Guide, Bruno Lochet
Watch Let the Girls Play online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Let the Girls Play is one of several films released online as part of the month-long MyFrenchFilmFestival. See the full 2019 line-up here.
In 2015, 25.4 million viewers tuned in to watch the final of the Women’s World Cup in the USA – a record high. But women’s football wasn’t always the popular rising star in the sporting arena, and still is dismissed by some narrow-minded fans. Let the Girls Play is a reminder of that – and a celebration that things have changed.
The film takes us back to the 1960s to chart the origins of the first all-female football team in France. The groundbreaking venture started almost as a joke, as a newspaper reporter, Paul (Max Boublil), is forced by his boss to organise the entertainment for a charity fete – and he decides that women kicking a ball around would be amusing to watch. It’s either that or dwarves, he reasons.
And so the plan is put in motion for Le Champenois to host an all-women game. But as the team begin to use the Stade de Reims‘ football pitch for their training session, the idea of a female-only team rubs the traditional men who run the club up the wrong way. There’s no doubting on which side of history the film stands, and the majority of the comedy stems from Boublil’s performance as the womanising Paul – a sports journo who is as dim-witted as he is self-centred. He’s joined by Emmanuelle (Vanessa Guide), the newspaper boss’ PA, who spends the runtime calling him out on his idiocy, making wry remarks and scoring with every withering glance.
Boublil is clearly having a ball opposite Guide’s scene-stealing turn and he sells the idea of a man realising the error of his ways with just enough conviction. While the jokes are firmly on him, though, the script – by director Julien Hallard, Jean-Christophe Bouzy (Raw) and Claude Le Pape (Love At First Fight) – makes the mistake of putting him front and centre. It’s an unfortunate choice, because it turns what should be a showcase for a top-notch female cast into something that’s not as progressive as it wants to be – watch out for the tired trope of Paul starting to fancy Emanuelle only after she’s taken off her glasses, which isn’t self-aware enough to feel like a knowing nod to sexist cinema conventions.
But Hallard, making his feature debut, does captures the period vibe nicely, and films the footballing action with a dynamic momentum. While it might have been nice to see a woman behind the camera, Hallard is adept at maintaining a feathery light touch that keeps events moving towards a genuinely crowd-pleasing finale that will likely have you cheering from the sidelines nonetheless. Let the Girls Play doesn’t always score, but it gets most of its well-meaning shots on target.