Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Longest Game (2014) Film Review
The Longest Game
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
When one reaches a certain age, we are told, one has time to relax, time to travel, time to reflect on life. Time to play paddle tennis. It's a game, paddle tennis, played by four people at a time atop a platform so games can go ahead even in winter when the Vermont countryside is blanketed with snow. A chicken wire surround keeps the ball from getting lost and keeps the game moving, rather like in squash. The bats resemble those used in table tennis. As long as one retains some mobility and some vestige on fitness, one can play paddle tennis right into one's eighties.
Hal, Charlie and Maurice (known as 'Maurie') are 87 and are regulars at the paddle tennis game. They're happy to take filmmaker Camille Thoman along to show her what it's all about, and we meet friends and wives and daughters too as the action expands beyond the court, taking us into yellow-painted kitchens and cosy living rooms, all framed by the gentle hills and thick woodland. Seasons come and go as we hear stories about the past and the present, with the men explaining that the future has less relevance now. It's a perspective we encounter surprisingly little in cinema. Thoman, who originally met the men by chance when visiting the court with her mother, is given advice about what she should be doing with her life; it's kindly, encouraging rather than prescriptive, and it speaks to the experience of time having passed too quickly, slipped away before they realised what was important.
Smoothly intercut with present-tense observations and interviews, clips of old cinefilm transport us into a fuzzy, overexposed land of memory, small children laughing and running through long grass. Clips from game shows open up that part of life shared with millions of others. There are musings on celebrity and the ineffable allure of Joanne Woodward. Although the men have regrets, it's the good memories on which they linger, mostly rooted in relationships with others. Their good-natured charm and sense of community makes this an easy film to like, but it's what isn't talked about, the context of impending mortality and the mean's drive to find joy in every moment of life that remains, that gives it its power.
Scribbled notes introduce key figures as the meandering narrative unfolds. This includes members of the crew. Only Thoman herself is perceptibly kept on the fringes, a hand glimpsed here, part of a shoulder there, as if she constitutes part of the frame in which these lives are set. In the final scene, where we watch a game of paddle tennis, the platform becomes a stage, the posts supporting the wire another frame for the action, and the men are simply players strutting their stuff. All are now gone. The curtain has fallen. This piece of preserved time might one day be found in a box of family heirlooms with the cinefilm and the photograph albums and the old posters to which we have been introduced, no-one any longer able to give it all context. Yet it is hard to imagine a time when people will look at this and not see something relatably human.Reviewed on: 09 Apr 2018