For my latest bit of virtual tourism via the the online streaming program of the Tribeca Film Festival, I visited Northern Finland, specifically the city of Oulu, which apparently has the worst rugby team in the nation. Documented throughout a single season by Mika Ronkainen for his film Freetime Machos, the underdogs sadly never come up from behind to make a dramatic championship victory, as they might in a Hollywood production. But that somewhat works to the advantage of the doc's exploration of modern masculinity within a constantly humiliated sports club.
I say somewhat, because I was honestly bored for much of the film's 86 minutes, whether it was the result of my having no understanding or interest in rugby or the matter of tedious repetition on the part of the story. Here's another game, they lose, they sauna, they get drunk, wrestle a bit in their skivvies, have serious or playful conversations about sex and masturbation, make gay jokes and then return to their wives or girlfriends or whatever daily routine they have in Oulu. At the end of the week, repeat.
One player is an author, who's turned the death of a friend into a non-fiction novel that seems to libel the country's corporate behemoth, Nokia. The team's coach is a British-born designer at that very communications company who's worried about his job as hundreds of employees are laid off. A Spanish girl joins the team, since there is no women's rugby club in town, but she's not allowed to play in the tournament games, as per the Federation's rules. And ultimately we learn that one of the men is gay, but most of the team knows and is okay with it.
Freetime Machos puts most of its focus on two Oulu players, Mikko and Matti, who seem completely meant for each other, like long lost brothers. Two Menaechmuses finally reunited for Saturdays on the pitch. With their blond hair and baby face cheeks, they even kinda resemble one another, at least compared to the other teammates regularly shown on screen. But Mikko is married, his wife "pregnant more often than not," while Matti is more confused about his love life. I'm not sure if we're meant to be given the presumption that Matti may be a closeted homosexual, but I felt I was constantly being given clues to such an implication.
If you're wondering where you might have heard of Oulu before, it's also the location of the Air Guitar World Championships, which you probably saw (and if not, should definitely see) in the hilarious and totally rockin' documentary Air Guitar Nation. As it turns out, Ronkainen is one of the co-founders of the AGWC, though he did not make that film (Project Runway producer Alexandra Lipsitz did). Freetime Machos is never as interesting nor anywhere near as funny. In that way, however, it's a more intimate and respectful portrait of Finnish guys struggling to represent their manhood. Still, there could have been some greater drama or narrative arc for viewers to connect with.
As I mentioned, the Hollywood remake would turn the real-life story into your typical ragtag underdog sports movie. It would also turn Mikko and Matti into your average comic bromance, in all likelihood played by Owen Wilson and Jason Segel (they surprisingly haven't been in a movie together ... yet). Sadly, I'm not one hundred-percent sure I wouldn't prefer that version, either.