There's not much swinging in the London of Paul Weiland's Sixty-Six. Somewhere across town, David Hemmings is watching the Yardbirds smash their guitars, but the most exciting thing in Gregg Sulkin's North London home is his upcoming bar mitzvah. Four-eyed and flat-footed, the curly haired Sulkin is used to being overlooked, his concerns drowned out by his obsessive-compulsive father (Eddie Marsan) and thick-skulled brother (Ben Newton). But here, at last, will be his chance to shine. Sulkin is so immersed in planning what he envisions as "the Gone With the Wind of bar mitzvahs" that he doesn't notice that it's been scheduled for the day of the World Cup final. As England has as much chance of making the final as Sulkin has of playing for Arsenal, his parents assure him there's nothing to worry about. But as any British soccer fan will know, July 30, 1966 was not a day to have other plans.
Weiland's filmography includes such cast-iron clunkers as City Slickers II and Leonard Part 6, but Sixty Six is a thoroughly amiable, if occasionally overstated, piece of work. Marsan's low-key performance saves the father from outright caricature, but Richard Katz's turn as a blind rabbi is broad enough to make Mel Brooks blush. Although the story is loosely inspired by Weiland's memories of his own childhood, there's little in the way of specific detail, and he's not above using flagrant anachronisms, like a supermarket that pops up next to Marsan's produce stand a decade late, to set up trite conflicts that can be resolved or more often brushed aside in the final reel.
But Weiland's occasional heavy-handedness is more than redeemed by the lightness of his cast, which also includes Helena Bonham Carter as Sulkin's mother, Catherine Tate and Peter Serafinowicz as his aunt and uncle, and an underused Steven Rea as his kindly but oblivious doctor. The characters, particularly father and son, outgrow their initial two-dimensionality, forming surprisingly strong and affecting bonds. The movie's climax is enough to provoke genuine tears, and not just from fans of the West Germany squad.