'The Holy Game' Misses the Goal Directed by Brent Hodge and Chris Kelly

'The Holy Game' Misses the Goal Directed by Brent Hodge and Chris Kelly
The last time we saw a Catholic underdog playing sports it was Rudy. And he was a likable guy, right? This time around we have The Holy Game, where things are a little more complicated and there's no happy ending. It's a 63-minute documentary from Canadian filmmaker Brent Hodge (and co-director Chris Kelly) that covers the Clericus Cup, a soccer tournament in Rome that is officially sanctioned by the Vatican. A gathering like this should offer some entertainment and whimsy considering it involves participants from 66 nations on all five continents, but the story is uneventful, if not a bit glum.

The film follows multiple men who are joining the priesthood, but for most of them the backstory is the same: self-doubt, repressed emotions, and guilt for having past girlfriends is what has drawn them to the church. To be blunt, it's a little dubious, and we're left to draw our own conclusions about their motives. But one thing is for sure: their families are all disappointed about them becoming priests. You raise these boys to "be fruitful and multiply," yet these ones aren't interested.

But it's not all regret and shame for these young monks, as they have one thing to look forward to. According to the Book of John, Jesus said, "I am the light of the world." But according to these guys, it's actually soccer that is their saving grace. Grayson Heenan is a young seminarian from Michigan, and he explains, "Initially my parents and my family did not take well to the decision… but a huge thing was them seeing me play soccer and really enjoying myself. For them, it's been a real comfort." (Quick personal anecdote: I'm an old man that still plays soccer and has managed to do so without the involvement of organized religion.)

The teams have names like North American Martyrs and Gregorian University. The matches are sparsely attended and the level of play is expectedly low, but they do look like they're having some fun for once in their lives. One interesting thing about the game's mechanics is the presence of a Blue Card. You don't need to be a soccer maven to know that the Yellow Card and Red Card are summoned for disciplinary action, but in the Clericus Cup, they also have a sinful Blue Card that is used to send a player to temporary purgatory after committing certain fouls. It's like a time-out for adults. From God's lips to the ref's ears. 

The film's visuals are skilled and the testimonies are earnest. The players' mantra is, "What brings us together is faith and the love of the game." The movie doesn't spare us their blatant prostheltyzing, and sadly, we never get to hear from the Pope, who is a renowned soccer fan and a much more interesting person than anyone you'll see here. 

 My favorite person in this documentary is Ghanaian-born Eric Gyasi. Most seminary students graduate to priesthood after three or four years, but not our Eric. He's here working on year 13. If he graduates, then he is no longer eligible to play in the tournament, and he's already enjoying three hots and a cot, so what's the rush? God has a plan for Eric, and it is seemingly for him to fart around Rome and play soccer. It's worth mentioning that Gyasi is the only happy person in this film, so go figure.

If you are in the market for a fine fußball flick, stick with Shaolin Soccer, Bend It Like Beckham or The Miracle from Bern. But if you need to discourage a friend from joining the clergy and want to use a sports angle, then The Holy Game might get the job done.