Stars: Stephen Curry, Brendan Cowell, Damon Gameau, David Lyons, Darren Gilshenan, Darshan V. Jariwala, Pallavi Sharda, Brenton Thwaites, Grant Piro, Ryan O'Kane, Eddie Baroo, Shibani Dandekar and Sid Makkar.
Writer: Brendan Cowell.
Director: Boyd Hicklin
Though it occasionally aims lower than a well-placed yorker, there is no denying Boyd Hicklin’s cricket-themed charmer Save Your Legs is a crowd-pleaser batting near the top of the order. Creamy-flannelled fans should turn out in droves when this traditionally blokish heart-warmer hits Australian screens in late January, just as the long, hot cricketing summer Down Under enters its final days.
Steeped in a purely ‘Strine larrikinism that clearly stems from screenwriter/co-star’s Brendan Cowell’s well-established on- and off-screen persona, this dramatization of Hicklin’s own 2005 documentary offers nothing intrinsically new in the arena of feel-good sporting comedies, but nor did Cool Runnings, The Mighty Ducks or A League of Their Own. This little Aussie film offers every bit as much likability as those Hollywood heavy-hitters and deserves similar audience love.
In 2001, a team of amateur cricketers from the Melbourne suburb of Abbotsford rather fantastically secured sponsorship to tour India and play against some of the subcontinents most revered semi-professional regional sides. The tour was captured by Hicklin and structured into an hour-long factual-film that found favour for its insightful portrayal of mateship, culture-clashing and pure sporting joy.
This fictionalized reworking tells the story of the Abbotsford Anglers and, more particularly, their passionate captain Edward ‘Teddy’ Brown (an immensely likable Stephen Curry). A cricket tragic whose boyhood dreams are beginning to rub unavoidably against the adult responsibility he refuses to acknowledge, Teddy’s main function as leader is to rally enthusiasm every weekend amongst a team of increasingly disparate and aging friends whose connection to the magic of the game is waning. Chief amongst them are the upwardly-mobile ace batsman Stavros (Damon Gameau), hedonistic man-child Rick (Cowell) and Teddy’s oddly-defined, pedantic offsider Colin (Darren Gilshenan).
With their current season in tatters, Teddy aims high and sets in motion a plan that will see them touring cricket-obsessed India, entirely on the coin of local businessman Sanjeet (Darshan V. Jariwala). It is a tour that takes them deep within the culture and one that allows Cowell and Hicklin space to play with the life-defining qualities inherent to traditional Indian life and how it impacts a group of men who all seem to be at a crossroad in their adult lives.
That said, profound existentialism is not high on the film’s agenda, especially when a good ol’ ‘Delhi-belly’ joke is on offer or the opportunity arises to have an easy shot at such targets as the side-to-side head-wobble (“When they move their heads like that, is that a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’?”) or Bollywood cliches (a subplot involving Sid Makkar’s local celebrity status is a bit strained). But when it counts, Save Your Legs is also deeply respectful of its host location (captured beautifully by DP Mark Wareham); a sequence in which Teddy becomes caught up in a vibrant street parade and important moments between the leads filmed on the River Ganges (one involving a running gag centred around the protective ‘cup’ worn by master batsman Sachin Tendulkar) are lovingly staged.
It all comes down to an all-or-nothing game against a snooty private club and its owner that invokes every dramatic neurosis afflicting the team and all the sporting clichés under the sun (or stadium lights, in this case). But that is entirely as it should be. The raison d’etre of films like Save Your Legs is to leave its audience with fond memories and a lumpy throat. In that regard, Hicklin and Cowell prove thoroughly reliable, with occasional dashing flair; they are the Hayden and Langer of Aussie summer cinema.