Sixty Six (2006)
★★★ / ★★★★
Tired of being picked last in gym class, bullied by his brother, and constantly forgotten by his parents (Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Marsan), Bernie (Gregg Sulkin) is convinced that having his Bar Mitzvah will change everything. After all, word has it that it is the turning point in which a boy becomes a man. So, he expects the event to be big, memorable, and important. However, when he learns that his big day will be held on July 30, 1966, a potential date in which England might participate in the World Cup finals, he comes up with various ways—even resulting to casting spells—to prevent the team from making it through the first round.
Though “Sixty Six,” written by Peter Straughan and Bridget O’Connor, has a comedic premise, it defies expectations through its willingness to engage the audience emotionally. It does so by allowing us to understand not only what the protagonist is thinking or feeling but also how he thinks and how he responds depending on the circumstances. The emotions dealt with here are familiar but they are never reduced to being simple.
According to Bernie, he wants his special occasion to be the “Gone with the Wind” of all Bar Mitzvahs. But for his family, especially since his father’s business faces a new competition in the market, money is tight. In his mind, his parents will recognize how important it is for him to have flashy celebration. It is a way for him to finally be seen, recognized, and treated as special. He is tired of being invisible.
So we root for him to fight against the tide. Though the material is based on a true story, I was not aware if England made it to the final round of the World Cup that year. Part of the suspense, at least for me, is discovering whether or not the team he should be rooting for, if the circumstances were different, will interfere with his epic plans.
There are some heartbreaks as well. The family is given its set of challenges not only when it comes to pecuniary matters but also through the strength of the marriage. When money becomes an issue, the foundation is shaken. Insecurities surface and people try to hide them in order to save face. I liked Marsan’s portrayal of an imperfect husband, brother, and father. He is careful in creating a character who does not come off cartoonish. Manny has his share of neuroses, like most people, but there is a relatable, human quality to him.
I admired that awkward moments do not balloon to the point where they draw attention to themselves for the sake of being amusing. These moments are sandwiched between emotions worth exploring. I loved that the material is honest and open enough to allow a child to feel ashamed of his father. Many movies avoid touching this subject because it is not easy to pull off—it might appear too silly or mean-spirited. Here, I was reminded of my own experiences when, as a kid, I would feel embarrassed for something my parents said or did while around other people. Because the screenplay understands its main character, the insights he extracts from his experiences are genuine and touching.
Directed by Paul Weiland, “Sixty Six” is about a boy who expects to have the perfect Bar Mitzvah—at least on the surface. At its core, it is about a boy’s need to be respected, to be treated as an equal, to be someone’s first choice, to feel some sort of confirmation that he is loved. We all have those needs in one way, shape, or form. It is expressed beautifully here.