IFE Film Review: Football is fantastically female in Let the Girls Play

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If you’re looking for an escape from the sad, soul-crushing reality of our deeply troubled times, first-time writer-director Julien Hallard’s hugely-entertaining Let the Girls Play (aka Comme des Garçons) might be just what the doctor ordered.

Sweet, funny, empowering, and far more topical than I’m sure Hallard and company intended when they set out to make a period sports comedy about an all-woman football team in 1960’s France, Girls is exactly the type of warm, uplifting, female-centric art the world needs right now.

And though the main character, Paul (played by charming French TV vet Max Boublil), is a vain, womanizing opportunist who mostly only ever does the right thing for the wrong reasons, Paul’s evolution from calculating cad to hard-charging feminist puts the “w” in woke and proves that sometimes even the most self-serving of leopards can indeed change his spots.

Paul’s journey might be a bit simplistic and “Hollywood” for some tastes, but fans of feel-good, underdog comedies like The Full Monty, Billy Elliot, Eddie the Eagle, and Pride will surely revel in the opportunity to watch a kooky cat-like Paul joining forces with a team of spirited women to literally kick against the pricks.

Set in Reims, France in 1969, Girls opens with cocky sports writer Paul Coutard being demoted by his editor at the daily paper after one too many fiery run-ins with Leroux (A Song for Mama’s Renaud Rutten), the powerful kingpin of the region’s football league.

Forced to help plan the paper’s annual fair until his contract runs out, Paul is paired with the editor’s soft-spoken executive assistant, Emmanuelle (The New Adventures of Aladdin’s Vanessa Guide). Hoping to hatch up something wholly original for this year’s festivities – and have a little fun at Leroux’s expense – Paul, at Emmanuel’s suggestion, decides to put together an all-woman football team.

But when what starts as a lark and a jab at Leroux’s imperiousness, develops into something truly groundbreaking – the official French female football league was disbanded in the 1930’s with the concept of women playing football considered scandalous and a bit of a joke with most men by the 60’s – Paul, Emmanuelle and the wildly eclectic women on their team turn the football world on its head in high-flying style.

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Loosely based on the movement by a handful of world-class female football players in Reims to promote awareness and acceptance of the sport in baldly patriarchal mid-century France, Girls plays a little fast and loose with the facts. But the script, by Hallard and newcomer Jean-Christophe Bouzy, is so much fun that you’ll hardly care.

And knowing that this film and its depiction of a pivotal time in the women’s rights movement in France might inspire girls and women everywhere to stick it to the man and forge their own bright, brilliant path through life makes watching Girls all the more powerful. For while the future is most assuredly female, Girls reminds us that the past had its share of kickass, game-changing women as well.

Let the Girls Play opened in theaters in France, Belgium and Switzerland earlier this year and is now playing exclusively on Air China flights worldwide.

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