- Nate Adams
'The Phantom of the Open' review: Mark Rylance scores a birdie in wholesome comedy
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
An underdog story that swept a generation, “The Phantom of the Open” chronicles the outlandish true story of Maurice Flitcroft, a prankster who cheekily submitted himself for the 1976 British Open golf championship with zero experience. Thanks to a loophole in the application process, Maurice exposed several irregularities and listed himself as a “professional” and the committee didn’t think twice. “Who would be stupid enough to do that?” an official quip. Turns out, it’s Maurice! Who is brought to winsome life by Mark Rylance in an ace performance that turns up the charm and infectious positivity while keeping the unsung hero relatable.
Directed by Craig Roberts from a script by Simon Farnaby and Scott Murray, “The Phantom of the Open” is a breezy, delightful adventure unafraid of sweeping the viewer up in all the commotion and blitz surrounding Maurice’s unlikely journey. Indeed, if the prankster had managed to pull off something like this today, he’d probably be a hero for the Tik-Tok generation. And Maurice’s commitment to never giving up and always reaching for the stars is the type of encouragement we could use more of these days, plus he’s a winning character worth rooting for, evident by the fact golf tournaments were named after him (including one in Grand Rapids, Michigan!).
Sally Hawkins delivers the charm playing Maurice’s affectionate wife and Rhys Ifans has fun playing a pompous, British open official keen on exposing Maurice’s antics. But he can’t stop the shenanigans, which are often unfurled to hit tunes by The Foundations, Christopher Cross, Sam Cooke and plenty more, keeping the lighthearted tone firmy in check. There’s even a cute subplot about Maurice’s twin sons exploring their dreams of becoming professional disco dancers. Roberts, Farnaby, and Murray might downplay the wily snafu’s Maurice partook in on a daily basis, underplaying several hoaxes and anarchic tendencies in lieu of creative liberties and emboldening the golf angle, he’s still an interesting personality and Rylance brings a mountain of charisma.
We’ve seen other British feel-good, based on true story, weepies get imported from across the pond: There was “Eddie the Eagle” and “Dream Horse” that, much in the same vein as “The Phantom of the Open,” followed a carefully modeled blueprint where you probably knew the outcome, but the ride to get there kept you smiling. There’s big “Paddington 2” and “Ted Lasso” energy felt throughout, and watching Maurice break the status quo and expose class entitled schmucks is a refreshing change of pace. Rylance is perfectly cast as the hazy-eyed and humbled golfer who represents the everyday man just trying to make the world his barnacle.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPEN debuts in select Michigan theaters Friday, June 17th before expanding Friday, June 24th.