"(NR) Three and a half stars

I’ll keep my remarks short, as the headline for this review has taken up most of my space. Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos (whew) is a briskly paced documentary that tells a hell of a good story. In fact, the account of the 1970s push to make soccer as big a sport in the U.S. as baseball, basketball and football is so juicy that it seems inevitable that a fictionalized version of it will someday spring out of Hollywood.

Matt Dillon narrates the film, which is stylishly directed by Paul Crowder and John Dower using the music of the period (very groovy), lots of vintage footage and photos showing the action (exciting) and the hairstyles (oh, how embarrassing), along with plenty of interviews with various key figures from the day.

Too often in documentaries, interviews with key figures from the day turn out to be tired droning from talking heads, but not here. These guys are as colorful now as they were then and their accounts are quite spirited. You may not know the names — the only one I knew was Pele and he declined to be interviewed — but you won’t forget their very large personalities.

I don’t want to recount the story — it’s more fun if you learn as you go. Suffice to say: The extremely rich honcho of an extremely big corporation decided to make the New York Cosmos the biggest team in the world of soccer. How does one accomplish such a task? With money and lots of money, thrown all over the place.

The mega-money brought mega-talents to the Cosmos from around the world. With mega-talents often comes mega-egos, and the film gets up close and personal with several, including a deliciously arrogant superstar.

I really want to tell you more, which generally indicates that I should shut up. Once in a Lifetime … is breezy, funny, gossipy and insightful. And trust me, the phrase “only in America” has never applied to a story more than this one.

 

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