The soccer documentary Pelada is refreshing in and of itself, less because of what it is and more because of what it isn’t. When nearly every documentary that comes to town is equipped with a political message, it’s nice to see a doc that just wants to tell a story, even if that story gets a little muddled along the way.
What we have is a film that follows Luke and Gwendolyn, a couple of college grads, both one-time soccer stars who’re now at the end of the road. With their dreams of playing professionally all but over, Luke and Gwendolyn don’t really have a grasp on how to proceed with their lives. Gwendolyn wants to become a writer, while Ryan is being pushed in the direction of law school by his family. So the two decide to hit the road in order not only to find themselves, but also to tell the story of people who love the game of soccer as they do. The duo set out to find pickup games (called “peladas” in Brazil) wherever they can.
It’s a fine enough concept to build upon and it works more than it doesn’t. The film’s biggest problem is that the personal issues we find our two leads dealing with just aren’t as interesting—or as engaging—as the ones they encounter on the road. Along the way, we see Luke and Gwendolyn bribe their way into a Bolivian prison to play soccer, and how the game really isn’t a tool for healing between Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem.
If the film had only been allowed to breathe and to grow organically from the stories of the people Luke and Gwendolyn encounter, Pelada would have been better off. Still, don’t mistake this for some glaring flaw. Instead, what results is more of a problem of unevenness, because when Pelada works, it works really well, striking a good balance between the lighthearted and the more serious-minded. And if you look at its goal as simply being a love letter to the world’s most popular sport, then the film definitely succeeds. Not rated.