The Netflix Queue: Kicking It (2008)
Full disclosure, I really, really love soccer and I am so happy the World Cup is on. For the next month, if it’s not about soccer, I probably don’t care all that much about it. Which is why, obviously, I’m leaning toward the sports films this month.
Soccer (or football, as it’s called in literally the entire world except the United States and Canada) is easily one of the most popular sports in the world. It’s played everywhere from billion-dollar stadiums to back alleys, and it has the power to change lives. At least, that’s probably the point Susan Koch, writer-director of the ESPN-produced Kicking It, meant in documenting the 2006 edition of the annual Homeless World Cup in Capetown, South Africa.
The tournament’s concept is fairly simple: teams of eight players representing countries from around the world play 14-minute street soccer. All of the players are homeless and the idea is to give them a sense of community… or something.
Kicking It is big on being heartwarmingly earnest. Koch and her co-director Jeff Werner really, really believe in their message: that soccer can change lives. And to prove it, they’ve assembled what is basically the cast of every underdog sports move ever, including a 23-year-old heroin addict from Dublin, a 62-year-old Spanish ex-bank robber, and an American with anger issues that come very close to being his undoing in the tournament.
As a narrative, Kicking It is sweet, and charming, and really, really life-affirming. As a documentary, though, it fails to investigate the cold realities of homelessness. Sure, we hear about the Russian side’s utter lack of rights at home, and an addendum at the end of the film highlights the tragedy that befalls an Irish player after the tournament, but most of that is presented to highlight how the Homeless World Cup gives them an escape from that. It’s so reliant on game footage that it leaves no time to talk about what happens when everyone ultimately goes back to the same terrible situations.
Much like the FIFA World Cup, Kicking It is a lot of fun if you’re a soccer fan, but probably a lot less if you aren’t. And much like the World Cup and all of its corruption, civil unrest in Brazil and the questionable ethics of the actual FIFA organization, they’d prefer it if you don’t think about all that and instead just watch some soccer.
Kicking It is available for streaming on Netflix.