By Cyd Zeigler jr.

My worst fears about Eleven Men Out (originally released in Iceland in 2005 as Strákarnir okkar) was that it would be another Guys & Balls where a gay team of misfits somehow wins the World Cup (OK, the latter didn’t go quite that far, but it might as well have). While there is a hint of that, the movie, now released on DVD by here!, is beset with some pretty real-to-life portrayals of the reactions to an out sports star and how the sports world can present both unique problems and opportunities for an out gay man.

In the first few minutes of the movie, Ottar comes out to his teammates. Right there in the locker room. Full-frontal nudity abounds (as it does throughout the movie). Ottar is to be featured in a Rekyavik magazine, but on the back page; so he comes out to the team, catapulting him to the cover. The reaction of his teammates is spot-on. They take it as a joke at first, then most of them seem to take a rather ho-hum attitude about it. It’s the front office and coaching staff, including Ottar’s father, that send him packing from the team. He ultimately lands on an amateur team with a few gay players; the straight members of that team leave, and the team evolves into an amateur gay team with some (allegedly) talented players and a couple chorus girls in cleats.
Ottar’s motives for coming out when he does nicely set up his egocentric character. It’s refreshing to see a gay main character who isn’t innocent and squeaky clean and is, at the end of the day, a rather unlikable guy. That gets played out in his relationship with his son Magnus (Arnaldur Ernst), who suffers from his egocentric father whom he visits from time to time and his alcoholic mother Gugga (Lilja Nótt Þórarinsdóttir), with whom he lives. In one scene, having just come out Ottar’s caught by Magnus having intercourse (and some pretty bad simulated intercourse at that) with one of his teammates (another unlikable character who seems even more self-obsessed than Ottar). Ottar yells at Magnus to get out and keeps right on going. Guilt does eventually set in and Ottar goes chasing after ‘Maggi’, but it’s tough to not condemn him and feel sorry for his son at the same time.
The handling of the soccer, how teammates interact, the inner workings of sports teams: Those are the strengths of the movie. And that’s saying something. Many gay-sports movies handle the gay characters and relationships with depth, but the sports aspects of them are often completely mishandled. With Eleven Men Out, it’s the complete opposite, to its credit and detriment.
Full of a dozen adult characters with little soul, the heart of the movie lies in Maggi. He’s an internally tormented kid who offers a glimpse into the side of gay parenting that too many in Hollywood are too politically correct to show. This is not the well-adjusted son of The Birdcage; Maggi is deeply troubled and finds his refuge in online video games, thunderous rock music and a half-Cambodian girl he meets on one of his father’s soccer trips. Unfortunately, neither IMDB nor Google bring up much about the actor, Ernst; this movie is his only credit. We can only hope he’s not done acting.
While the film starts well and aims to avoid stereotypes, it slips into them deeper and deeper as the story progresses.
The relationships are terribly underdeveloped. There is no chemistry between Ottar and his teammate/lust object. You get no sense that Ottar and Gugga would have, could have or should have ever conceived a child, let alone with one another. While I claim no knowledge of the inner workings of Icelandic family life, Ottar’s father is very one-note and his mom is a little hard to grasp, crying heartily in one scene about her son’s sexuality and supporting him in the next. That kind of arc is certainly worthy of an entire movie, but it doesn’t get the development needed here; when she’s suddenly forcing her husband to sit on their son’s side of the field during “the big game,” it reads as convenient for the screenwriter, not a natural progression of a character we’ve seen three times.
One thing Americans can take solace in from the film is that the gay people in the movie are sneared at just as much as they are in America; and some of the women are treated worse. While some claim that European and Scandanavian culture breeds freedom and a gay-friendly culture, Eleven Men Out makes an unmistakable claim that their culture is a dozen years behind ours.The film handles well what makes it unique: The story of a top-level team-sport athlete coming out to his team. Unfortunately, the development of the characters and that story leave a little to be desired.