Film Review: Swing Away

Though it’s a totally implausible film about a suspended golfer finding redemption and second chances when she returns to her roots, 'Swing Away' is also a harmless entertainment with girl power themes for the pre-teen set.
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Despite its coincidences galore, feel-good-predictability and hyperbolic villain/good guy stereotypes—in short, its credibility-defying elements from top to bottom—Michael A. Nickles’ Swing Away is innocuous, family-friendly entertainment for female tweens in need of a little girl power inspiration. Distaff empowerment, even for the toddler set, is a hot topic, and the movie’s release is perfectly timed considering the recent publication of Savannah Guthrie’s best-selling children’s book Princesses Wear Pants.

Thanks to having one nasty meltdown during a tournament, professional golfer Zoe Papadopoulos (Shannon Elizabeth) is suspended. Humiliated and at loose ends, she decides to visit her grandparents (Olga Damani, Alexandros Mylonas), who live on an unidentified Greek island brimming with salt-of-the-earth types. They spend a lot of time baking bread and hugging each other—this is an emotionally demonstrative crowd—while speaking both Greek and English. (The film is bi-lingual and uses subtitles when Greek is spoken.)

On the beach, Zoe encounters Stella (Viktoria Miller), a young girl who has professional golfing aspirations. Zoe spies her practicing her swings and soon learns that Stella’s good-looking father (widowed and salt-of-the-earth) can’t afford to give his daughter golf lessons.

And here comes the second plot: The formerly public golf course had to be sold—remember, the Greek economy tanked—and is now owned by the meanest of the meanies, American businessman Glenn Henderson (played unabashedly restraint-free by John O’Hurley), who has no feeling for the community and is only interested in making huge profits.

The problem is that nobody is coming to his golf course. So, as a tourist attraction, Zoe offers to provide golf clinics. She has one condition: Locals don’t have to pay. Zoe and Stella's bonding continues, with Stella picking up more skills besides, but the golf business fails to flourish. When Henderson realizes that his clinic is being run by a suspended player, he goes into a tailspin and decides to free himself of all of it by selling the land to even meaner meanies (over-sized, cigar smoking, heavy-drinking Americans), who plan to convert the property into a pricey resort, shopping mall and theme park.

The townspeople threaten to sue, which could hold up the proceedings for years, to no one’s advantage. So Zoe proffers Henderson (who is also a gambling man) a small wager: She will play a golf game with him. The winner takes ownership of the property. This has probability written all over it. But, wait, it gets better. Henderson insists he will only play a local, so Stella steps up to the challenge. It’s a showdown.

Throughout, there is much discussion of ancient Greek philosophy and its connection to the game of golf—an early form of golf was played in Ancient Greece—and the writings of Nikos Kazantzakis, who said “In order to succeed, we must first believe that we can,” “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free” and “Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality.” These are lessons Zoe needs to learn, along with the power of resilience, heritage and second chances. She does so just as her suspension from the game is lifted. Stella learns life lessons, too.

Clearly, it’s all absurd. Not too much analysis is called for, especially in light of its intended young audience—one hopes that’s the intended audience—who will probably enjoy it. In all fairness, however, the film has some original facets for audiences of all ages, not least setting a golf story in Greece. The lush rolling hills flanked by turquoise sea on all sides make for a spectacular locale.

Another twist—and this is surprising when you think about it—is that while there are many flicks about male golfers (from the Caddyshack franchise to Tin Cup to Happy Gilmore, among many others) Swing Away is the first movie, at least to my knowledge, that features a professional woman golfer as its heroine. This past spring, documentary The Founders recalled the triumphant efforts made in 1950 by 13 amateur women golfers in forging the Ladies Professional Golf Association (the LPGA). It would seem the time is long overdue for a narrative movie, one designed for a mature audience, on the topic.

As for Swing Away, O’Hurley’s performance is a hoot—arguably worth the time and money—and you don’t even have to be a pre-teen to enjoy it.

Click here for cast and crew information.