Pelada Scores!

Lauren Davis
J.D. Candidate 2012, UCI Law

I finally had the pleasure of seeing Luke Boughen’s documentary, Pelada. I had high expectations because (a) it had received good reviews, (b) the trailer was enticing, and, most importantly,(c) a classmate had taken a huge role in its production. Luke, Gwendolyn Oxenham, Ryan White, and Rebekah Fergusson directed the film. Pelada follows Luke and Gwendolyn, his then-girlfriend (they married this past summer), as they travel around the world in impassioned pursuit of pickup soccer games (called Peladas in Brazil). One film critic called it a “poignant love letter” to soccer and another praised its “unique motivational quality.” I loved the film and recommend it highly—with both of my thumbs held proudly up.

Pelada’s tagline, “Away from the bright lights, manicured fields and big names of the pro leagues, there’s another side to the game,” succinctly captures the essence of the film. Luke and Gwendolyn seem to dribble through the corners of the earth with ease and enthusiasm—from a Bolivian prison to the shadows of Egyptian pyramids and with moonshine brewers in Kenya and freestyle players in China. “All over the world, people play for nothing, for no other reason than to play,” Gwendolyn says in a voiceover.

As a former Division I college athlete, I particularly appreciate Luke and Gwendolyn’s reflections on the process of learning to love a sport after the height of athletic success has faded into the past. Anyone who has “moved on” from a meaningful talent, passion, or position can relate to the pain of realizing a dream—or at least a certain version of it—has ended. Although I never reached Luke’s and Gwendolyn’s level of athletic success (I was a local track star, and they had the potential to play at the highest professional levels), I understand the confusion that results when one’s identity as a competitive athlete loses its salience.

After traveling across 25 countries over the course of a year, Luke and Gwendolyn, newly engaged, return to the United States as former soccer stars with newfound perspectives on the game’s role in their lives. Gwendolyn tries out for a professional team but does not make the final cut. Although she seems disappointed in the outcome of what was likely her last chance at “going pro,” she also appears relieved. She can now return to writing a novel, pursuing her passion for creative writing. Luke decides to apply to law school, and the rest is history. They continue to play in pickup games whenever theyhave the opportunity.

Pelada is a love story on many levels, and it is clear that the entire project was the filmmakers’ labor of love. Without over- romanticizing the interactions between Luke, Gwendolyn, and their ad hoc teammates, the film portrays pickup soccer as a means of transcending political, socioeconomic, racial, and cultural boundaries and expressing the commonality of human experience. Luke and Gwendolyn’s changing relationship with soccer parallels their transformation as a couple. When Luke proposes to Gwendolyn in Tehran, it becomes clear that the journey has strengthened a love that was already secure, caring, and lifelong.