The ups and downs of footballer Paul John Gascoigne.
A genius on the football pitch, often branded a village idiot off it, Paul Gascoigne’s journey from Mars bar-fuelled midfielder to national treasure to figure of pity is a great arc for a documentary. Following TV efforts on the Jacksons and beauty queens, Preston’s enjoyable film does the first two very well, but, unlike Gascoigne in his prime, loses focus in the final third.
Interspersed with football highlights and ’80s/’90s news reports, Gascoigne looks down the lens and recounts the Greatest Hits in his footballing life: run-ins with Vinnie Jones (who told him in the tunnel, “It’s you and me, fat boy”), Italia ’90, breaking his leg in training, an injury-torn sojourn to Italy and a spell at Rangers that saw his Catholic-baiting flute mime end in a death threat. Thankfully, we are saved Fog On The Tyne. Of course, there are tales of crazy antics (he once took an ostrich to training) and you learn some things that will give you sleepless nights (Gary Lineker has the smooth body of a ladyboy, apparently) but the film also attempts to define his brilliance. For Lineker it is “confidence and impudence”. José Mourinho plumps for “aggressive and technical”.
Sadly, Preston’s film isn’t as probing away from the game Gascoigne clearly loved. Save some brushes with mortality (the death of a childhood friend is particularly moving) and his paranoia over phone-tapping, there is little about his personal problems (no mention of a wife) or any contradictory perspectives or context. There are also some strange filmmaking choices. The movie is framed in cold, clinical hues and uses big, out-of-focus close-ups to add artsy punctuation. If the aim is sobriety, somehow it also makes the warm, vulnerable Gascoigne, the kid who bought a sunbed for his sister after signing for Spurs, feel distant. It’s good on Gazza. Just a shame we never really get to the heart of Paul Gascoigne.
An entertaining 90 minutes for the football-inclined, but it doesnt transcend its subject matter à la Senna.