Cricket may have a long and storied literary canon, but it is surprisingly under-represented when it comes to films based upon the noble game. There was 1953’s The Final Test, featuring cameos from Compton, Hutton and Washbrook. It, 2003’s Wondrous Oblivion plus the 2001 Bollywood spectacular Lagaan round out a small group of cricket-focused films that have reached any kind of critical mass.
Those aside, we’re talking documentaries and some really awful made-for-TV movies. In fact cricket’s main fictional successes have actually been on the small screen; the ABC miniseries Bodyline and last year’s Kerry Packer love-fest Howzat! are the most noteworthy.
To a cricket fan like myself, it seems odd that despite the enormous international appeal of the game, it has had so little love on the big screen. Awful sports movies come thick and fast, year after year, but poor old cricket has largely missed out on the fun.
With all that in mind I headed off to see Save Your Legs with a not undue amount of admiration that director Boyd Hicklin and screenwriter/star Brendan Cowell managed to even get this thing made. Getting an Australian film funded is hard work. Getting the cash together to make a film about cricket is something approaching a miracle. I was already half barracking, but under no illusions that it could be an innings defeat.
When reviewing sports films you always have to keep in mind that they exist in an alternate universe to any other films. Expectations are immediately lowered. Hoosiers, for example, is great fun as a sports movie and in this context would rate at about 4 stars. On any normal scale of film criticism it would be a 2 1/2 star movie. What I’m saying is that all you budding Roger Ebert’s need to cut this thing some slack. We know it’s not a proper film. Another disclaimer: I have not seen the documentary on which the film is based. In my experience, as with book adaptations, this is no bad thing when you are hoping to enjoy the film.
Well anyway, I am delighted to say that despite the odds being stacked so heavily against it and the fact it’s apparently bombing at the box office, Save Your Legs is a highly enjoyable little film. It is most definitely a cricket film but it also works as a light-hearted look at male friendship and the reluctance of men to grow up.
To anyone who has played cricket or been the member of a sporting club, there are a number of characters and moments that will resonate. The film benefits from some wonderful cinematography (has anyone ever made a horrible-looking film in India?) and locations that only serve to emphasise the rag-tag nature of the Abbotsford Anglers, an Aussie club team abroad.
The film’s heart and soul, Teddy, was a role tailor-made for Australian cinema’s go-to dag, Stephen Curry. He holds proceedings together well, striking the right balance between hapless and wimpy.
Brendan Cowell is also excellent as the team’s shambolic captain Ricky, a man maintaining a debauched lifestyle at odds with impending fatherhood. Following on from his surprisingly believable portrayal of Rod Marsh in Howzat, it’s hard now hard to imagine Cowell without a 3 day growth and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. If he keeps winning and creating roles as cricketers, I for one will not be displeased.
Fellow Howzat alumni Damon Gameau graduates from his muted performance as Greg Chappell to take on the outsized role of ‘Stav’, the kind of flashy, arrogant dickhead we’ve all known or played cricket with. Gameau overplays the role by about 50% but in spite of this, it kind of works and you’re compelled to get behind him. His cocky strut and slime-ball persona keep the film’s run rate ticking over at a healthy pace.
Elsewhere, Brenton Thwaites as ‘ring-in’ Mark, delivers a performance more wooden than any of the willow wielded during the Anglers’ 3 tour matches (I’m being realistic about the degree of financial difficulty in including any more match scenes, but it seemed ludicrous that the team only played 3 games on this epic and apparently expensive tour). Melbourne-born Pallavi Sharda is a shining light as the obligatory love interest (Of Curry’s Ted) – even given that SYL is a bit of a bloke-fest, what a novelty it is to have such a role filled by an actress who doesn’t look like a Home and Away extra. That itself could be a hint to Australian film-makers who tend to veer a bit too “white” in the casting department.
I can’t help but feel that the trailer and early reviews, focusing as they did on crotch shots and toilet humour, have done a real disservice to this film. In actual fact, Save Your Legs is mercifully short on such moments and the trailer really gives a distorted prominence to the low brow ‘gross-out’ moments. This is a film with a heart, a film about men fighting against their instinct to be boys, and most importantly a film about cricket. For those reasons, I couldn’t help but get behind it. I was thus prepared to look beyond the odd clichéd sports movie trope and extra helping of cheese.
Early signs are not good for the box office returns of Save Your Legs (I had the cinema to myself until I was joined by two stragglers as the opening credits rolled) which is a shame, because this is a genuinely entertaining, broad comedy. It was made by a group of people who clearly love the game (only a genuine cricket lover would work a scene involving in the knocking-in of a bat with one of those loud mallets into their film) and who shared the kind of chemistry from which such bro-mances can gather momentum. Let’s just hope that this momentum doesn’t send them all down-hill.
Save Your Legs is light, it’s a bit cheesy, but in spite of a stacked field on the off side, it came off somewhere near the middle of the bat and rolled all the way to the boundary for four. There are far worse films that you could take a chance on.