A team of oddball misfits and loners form an ad-hoc team, thrown together because they don’t have any other friends in the league. Due to their collective talent, they find themselves in the finals facing the perennial champs, a tight-knit crew full of confidence and egos.
But the upstarts find themselves gelling as a team, finding their footing individually and as an ensemble. Each loner begins to embrace their inner fire and learn to accept and celebrate themselves — just as the champs begin to unravel.
Told in a mockumentary style a la “The Office,” this short comedy — written and directed by Casey Feigh, who also features in a role — is a charming, affable ode to small-town bowling and the power of competition and teamwork to change lives. It has its sharp, satirical edges, especially in its collective portrait of a group of eccentric, sometimes extreme personalities, but it also reaches moments of sweetness that feel unusually resonant as well.
The film is jam-packed with comedic talent that includes well-known actors like Matthew Gray Gubler (known for his long-running role in “Criminal Minds”), Lauren Lapkus (“Orange Is the New Black”) and Ego Nwodim (currently seen on “Saturday Night Live”). There’s also a host of familiar comedic character actors, many of whom are associated with Uptight Citizens Brigade.
With such an abundance of amazing performers, the story takes its time to set up each oddball personality, who each come with hilarious backstories and anecdotes of their own. The collective portrait also plays to each actors’ strengths and style and gives each a chance to shine, whether it’s in Mary Holland’s neurotic and ultra-committed former housewife to Betsy Sodaro’s scarily passionate Bomber.
The mockumentary format nicely accommodates the looseness of the storytelling, which is fascinated with the unique individualism and passionate rituals of small-town America. Each player on the teams is unorthodox and unusual in their way, and the film has a lot of fun letting these characters run amok, especially in the pressure cooker of competition.
As the main story itself finally gets going, it pokes fun at the seriousness of bowling and the way competition brings out the hidden side of people. But like many of the best sports movies, it also celebrates how people can come together to find a common purpose, and help one another believe in themselves and achieve seemingly impossible feats.
“Beginner’s Luck” doesn’t spend a lot of time on the competition itself, or the ins and outs of the game, and in many ways, it begs for a larger narrative format because it’s so packed with stories that beg to be expanded. What does radiate throughout the film, though, is a simple but palpable joy. There’s the joy of comedy, and making people laugh at themselves and our foibles as human beings. But there’s also the sheer delight of coming together as a group, which “Beginner’s Luck” celebrates in a way that’s both lightly ironic and genuinely sincere. During a pandemic where many have been isolated to an unprecedented degree, it makes the end of “Beginner’s Luck” seem even more heartwarming in its celebration of community and togetherness.