Gascoigne Review: Vulnerability And Vanity As Art

Well made, but it doesn't tell the whole story.

Rating: ˜…˜…˜… At the heart of Gascoigne is a difficult subject, but an irresistible one: a wayward genius, wounded and definitively vulnerable. In football, it's also an age-old story thanks to the vortex created at the end of playing careers, when the irreplaceable thrill of adulation makes way for a vacuum that must be filled by something else. For Gazza, the vacuum was filled with the same kind of self-destruction that made him such a commodity for the media in his playing days. He was never one for restraint: and just as that led to some of his more notorious and controversial moments on the pitch (his catastrophic knee injury, his infamous celebrations...) it also gave rise to some of the most famous stories about the amiable Geordie. As Gascoigne is pretty quick to establish, not only are most of the wildest and worst things you've heard about Gazza true, he also takes great pleasure in that fact. And therein lies part of his vulnerability, which comes across rather more than is seemingly intended by a documentary that comes across as sychophantic at times.
When he's not laughing at his own silliness - which included borrowing an ostrich to take to training at Spurs and inciting the IRA to threaten to murder him - he's admitting quite shocking things about his past. Most have been explored before - his problems with drinking, the media hounding that saw his phone hacked for 11 years and his sectioning - but few have been witnessed in his own words. And therein lies the chief appeal for some of the film's probable audience: the irresistible promise of Gazza possibly offering a reason why he is how he is, and what might have caused his self-destructive behaviour and illnesses. Somewhat inevitably, there's not too much of a definitive answer there: as Terry Venables says, sometimes you have to wonder whether we would have got Gazza the player if we didn't get Gazza the lunatic. Or Gazza the mentally ill frequenter of rehab. That the second part is left unspoken poses the silent but pertinent question of whether somebody shouldn't have looked after him a bit more. Indeed, it's even expressed at one point that Gazza's career and life wouldn't have gone the way they did nowadays, because of the safeguarding players are given. That hanging over everything makes the film's gentle encouragement of the Daft As A Brush stereotype a little jarring.
Ironically for a film focusing on a man so characterised by excess, the film doesn't go far enough either way in probing the contradiction of the myth and the man. As such, at times, it's hard to see the distinction. For fans of Gazza as a footballer, it would have been nice to see more of his value as a player, more of the moments of sublimeness that legitimately do qualify him as a genius. For fans of the kind of frank, Piers Morgan style warts and all human drama interviews where the joint currency is honesty and tears, it would have been better to see more exploration beneath the mythology. After all, to see the player vilified is nothing if not justified: he was legitimately one of the greatest English players of all time. To see the man - no matter how vulnerable or fractured he has been - is somewhat less so. Gazza might have been a tortured soul - a man irrevocably damaged as a child by the death of a friend that he seemingly still blames himself for - but he is also no angel. And the fact that there is absolutely no reference to the darker moments and controversies that were more of his own making feels like an oversight at best and a deception at worst. The film itself is slickly put together: it has the very definite feel of a BBC extended documentary, and the talking heads involved - from Wayne Rooney to Gary Lineker - are well chosen and well framed. It's just rather a shame that there are no real figures from his past or his family (their absence seems to hang rather ominously, but not surprisingly). But that's not an argument over the gloss of the film at all.
In the end, despite the entertainment factor and the chance to see his friends and those who see him as a hero talk fondly about him, it's hard to shake the feeling that Gascoigne is a premature eulogy for a man who is curiously devoid of hope for the future. As he says himself, rather touchingly and very tragically, he knows how to stay sober and he knows how to get drunk. That he doesn't say definitively which ability is winning might be the longest lasting memory despite the film's insistence on the positives of his genius. Gascoigne is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Download 15th June and available to pre-order now. It will play in cinemas for one night only 8th June.
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