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Mark and Holly have only been on their honeymoon a few days, and their marriage is already on the rocks. The problem is simple: not only is Mark a man, he's an Englishman. And it's soccer season.
That's the simple but amusing premise of The Other Half, the light-as-air 2004 film airing Saturday at 21:45 on HOT Fun. The channel has chosen a nice time to broadcast the movie, with Israeli women joining millions of their counterparts around the world in sitting back, half-irritated and half-bewildered, while their husbands and boyfriends abandon them to watch the World Cup.
There's no reason, of course, that women couldn't devote their lives to soccer just as obsessively as men, but that's not a complication of much interest to Marlowe Fawcett and Richard Nockles, the writer/directors of The Other Half. Their sitcom-like film, a merry compilation of longstanding clich s and well-worn jokes, wouldn't suggest anything as serious as the idea that women are capable of enjoying sports. The movie is perhaps best described as the athletic equivalent of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which successfully turned a half-hour's worth of Greek stereotypes into a thoroughly inoffensive, highly enjoyable feature-length comedy.
As with that earlier movie, The Other Half politely requests that you not think too carefully about its plot, which provokes some rather obvious questions that more ambitious screenwriters would have bothered to answer. Suffice it to say that Mark and Holly have chosen Portugal as their honeymoon site - not, as she believes, because of the opportunities it affords for swimming with dolphins, but because of the major soccer tournament taking place in two of the country's biggest cities. Mark, as it happens, booked his tickets to three of the games before he even met Holly, and rather than schedule his honeymoon so that it wouldn't overlap with the soccer tournament, he's decided to combine the two.
Though the scheme goes well in its early stages, Holly eventually notices that, uh, it's her honeymoon and, uh, her husband isn't with her. Complicating issues even further is the fact that while Mark has arrived in Portugal to cheer on his native England, Holly isn't even from a soccer-loving country. She's American - a deficiency which, poor girl, prevents her from appreciating soccer's profound importance almost as much as the fact that she's a woman. When she helpfully draws a parallel between her father's interest in baseball and her husband's love of soccer, an offended Mark derides the idea. "[Baseball] is boring and crap," he points out, amazed anyone could be so dense.
Soon, though, it's Holly's turn to be offended, with the patient young bride finally losing her cool upon discovering that her husband has staged a hotel room break-in so he can go to a soccer match between England and Croatia. She takes off on her own, making fast friends with Suzie, a fellow "soccer widow" whose English upbringing helps her to explain their husbands' all-consuming obsession. Mark, meanwhile, slowly realizes that even soccer victories might not be the same as the love of a good woman, and he begins a desperate campaign to locate and win back his new wife.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out what happens from here, though "genius" is exactly what Suzie's husband calls Mark after learning of his combined honeymoon/soccer tournament idea. But The Other Half's screenwriters have made a smart decision in attempting to win over viewers with goofiness, not drama or credibility, and in that regard the film easily succeeds. As Mark and Holly, actors Danny Dyer and Gillian Kearney play their parts with just the right mix of seriousness and irony - their characters are caricatures, but still represent real-life husbands and wives. They also keep the characters playful and funny, making it easy to see why the squabbling twosome would hit it off so well when there isn't a game to be seen.
The Other Half is sufficiently charming, in fact, that HOT Fun might consider airing the film again next month as a form of public service, sometime after the World Cup has come to its conclusion. Spousal relations are likely to remain tense in the weeks after the tournament, and the movie, aided by its comic message of compromise, may prove just what the marriage counselor ordered.