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Sixty Six review

by: Caroline Westbrook - Last updated: 2006-11-03

Sixty Six

Sixty Six

Over the last 20 years, there have only been a handful of British Jewish comedy films – Leon The Pig Farmer, Suzie Gold and Wondrous Oblivion, to be precise – and even fewer dramas (Song of Songs, Solomon and Gaenor).

Despite critical acclaim, none of these set the box office on fire – but Sixty Six, the latest homegrown kosher comedy, may well succeed where the others have failed. This coming-of-age tale blends gentle comedy with heartwarming drama and a healthy dose of nostalgia to winning effect – and what's more, it doesn't rely heavily on Jewish stereotypes.

It's 1966, and 12-year-old Bernie Ruben (Gregg Sulkin) is looking forward to the biggest day of his life – his Barmitzvah. Determined to outdo his brother Alvie, whose own coming-of-age was a spectacular affair, Bernie sets about planning his ideal party. But a string of events conspire to ruin his Barmitzvah – not only does his parents' business fall on hard times, leaving them strapped for cash, but it soon becomes apparent that his big day clashes with the World Cup final – and England stand a good chance of being in the big game. As the team progress through the tournament, Bernie appears to be the only person in the country who doesn't want them to make the final…

Paul Weiland's film distinguishes itself from other recent Jewish Britcoms by steering largely clear of stereotypical Jewish characters and behaviour in favour of clever observational humour and a witty script. With the exception of a rather cliched Rabbi (whose appearance is mercifully brief), these characters could have come from any background, except in this case they just happen to be Jewish.

That's not to say that the film's Jewish content is lacking – there's plenty here, from cringeworthy wedding speeches and neurotic behaviour, through to an embarrassingly funny scene in which the fathers of Barmitzvah boys-to-be are made to talk about what the day means to them. And the non-Jewish cast members – including Helena Bonham Carter as Bernie's mum, Eddie Marsan as his troubled dad and comedienne Catherine Tate as his neurotic Auntie Lila – make for convincing Semites. Newcomer Sulkin (who is Jewish) gives a terrific performance that suggests he will be a name to watch in the future.

But Sixty Six works on more than just a Jewish level – it's also a film about football, and the excitement and atmosphere of a country on the brink of World Cup glory is perfectly captured, all the way through to the shamelessly feelgood ending. In focusing on both aspects of the story, rather than just concentrating solely on the religious side, Weiland has created a film that is likely to have appeal beyond the Jewish community. And given that it's one of the most enjoyable Jewish-themed films for a long while, it deserves to find a wider audience.
 
Sixty Six (Cert 12A) is out now