Celebratory, lightweight documentary that fails to figure out the titular footballer
One of football’s most mercurial talents, Paul Gascoigne has experienced scintillating highs and terrible lows, both on the pitch and off, like few others. A Roy of the Rovers-style talent, he’s also been a tabloid fixture for his increasingly concerning struggle with addiction, making him a fascinating subject. Sadly, Jane Preston’s portrait is about as insightful as a segment on Football Focus, more of a celebration than an investigation.
Even the way it's shot feels artificial – with Gazza all suited-and-booted and the camera catching false smiles and gestures. Yet, to be fair, the man himself doesn’t hold back. Those tears, world famous after Italia 90, are set in motion in the first few minutes, when he’s recalling the death of a boyhood friend. And, once you've tuned in to that thick Geordie accent, you’ll find him the archetypal joker, armed with amusing anecdotes (not least about borrowing an ostrich from a local zoo).
Ex-Spurs teammate Gary Lineker has plenty of articulate contributions, while Chelsea manager José Mourinho and Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney also pay their respects. Indeed, if you simply want to wallow in his on-pitch brilliance, and re-watch some of those goals he scored for Newcastle, Tottenham, Lazio, Rangers and, of course, England then you’ve come to the right place. For instance, that free-kick against Arsenal in the 1991 FA Cup semi-final just doesn’t get old.
Nevertheless, by skipping over much of Gascoigne's post-Rangers career, as he began to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, director Preston gives her subject an easy ride. 'I know how to stay sober and I know how to relapse,' he says. He also briefly opens up about being the victim of phone-hacking, but this final section feels lightweight. Perhaps that was part of the deal to get Gazza to talk. But, like the film as a whole, it feels like a missed opportunity.
Selected release on Mon 8 Jun.