Starring: Tim Boardman, Molly Shannon, Missi Pyle, Paul Reiser, Stephen Root
Director: Nathan Adloff
It seems like the last hundred years have been littered with incidents of individual crusades of people fighting back against gender-norms. From major political movements to lone voices standing up to their community, these stories are now increasingly trickling through on film, with movies about women who stood up to the male establishment now a legitimate genre of film in its own right. However, what appears less frequently is the flip-side; the stories of men being discriminated against based on their gender. Miles is just one of these stories.
Miles (Boardman) is 17 and living with his parents (Shannon & Root), but when his father dies suddenly, the family discovers he was keeping a mistress and had spent all their savings on her. With his college money gone, Miles is desperate to go to Chicago and leave his tiny home town behind and finds what appears to be his only way out; a volleyball scholarship. Except there is no boys’ volleyball team at his school. With the blessing of the school’s girls’ team’s coach (Pyle), Miles joins the team, only to be met with strong resistance from the teams he plays against when they realise he is actually a very good player.
What starts as a family drama becomes a sports movie as his struggles at home spill onto the court at school. The family aspect is definitely what makes for compelling viewing here, with Molly Shannon turning in a fantastic performance, finely toeing the line between a tragically broken character and her excellent comedic talents. Just as she found that balance in Other People, so too here has she created a damaged but adoring mother for her gay son. At times she doesn’t fully understand what her son is trying to achieve, but she depicts this difficult cohesion of her own grief and her need to care for her son adroitly.
Based on a true story, the film is set in 2000 and Adloff goes to great pains to recreate the period with costumes, haircuts and extended sequences played out on MSN Messenger. While Miles finds support in talking to a stranger in Chicago, we also see that he has to fend off the advances of online sexual predators too. And as his mother goes through the motions of dating for the first time after the death of her husband, there is a delightful seat-squirming scene in which she uses her son’s computer and discovers the possibilities of online sexual freedom.
The mark of a successful sports movie is always the way that it manages to capture the sport in a way that will show to its audience – especially the uninitiated in the rules of the game – what makes it so dramatic and captivating. Unfortunately, this is something that Miles doesn’t really manage. We see footage of the games, but despite montage sequences that stitch together their highlights, there is little to make us root for him or his team. In fact, the game sequences are thumb-twiddling lulls in pace, which makes you wonder whether the director actually likes or understands volleyball whatsoever.
The film’s pay-off isn’t quite as fulfilling as you’d hope, especially due to all the opposition Miles is forced to endure. In terms of gender crusading, it does actually highlight a key issue: if girls can now play for boys’ teams, why shouldn’t a boy play for a girls’ team if he wants to? But while Miles stands against that, he doesn’t really get anywhere with it… This is no Everybody's Talking About Jamie. His storyline also plays alongside his mother’s with equal screen-time and yet it’s his name that takes the film’s title, deceiving us into believing he is some kind of landmark hero. Which he isn’t. Really, this could have been a stronger film if his story had been just one amongst others, rather than being top-billed in the title and setting us up for disappointment.