Bleak British comedy from Dogme defectors is brave and affecting
DIRECTED BY Lone Scherfig
STARRING Jamie Sives, Adrian Rawlins, Shirley Henderson
Opens December 5, Cert 15, 109 mins
What’d happen if the makers of the better Danish Dogme films elected to helm a ‘normal’ film?a romantic black comedy?set in Glasgow? Unexpectedly, something cool, considered and charming. “I wanted to play on a bigger piano and strike the keys harder than before,” the Italian For Beginners director Lone Scherfig has said, and, co-writing with the man behind Mifune (Anders Thomas Jensen), she’s conjured up a strange, mischievous magic. It’s both very British, and not.
It doesn’t start promisingly (and that’s assuming you get past the title). It seems small-scale, low-key, mumbly. Yet once its wit and honesty hook you, you feel for these oddly realistic characters, their lives of quiet desperation punctuated by loud acts of folly or flashes of mad inspiration. Wilbur (Sives) is indeed suicidal: his umpteenth attempt at topping himself (despite his innate way with the ladies) is foiled by his more down-to-earth brother Harbour (Rawlins). “It gets more humiliating every time I survive,” grimaces Wilbur. The brothers inherit a run-down second-hand bookshop from their deceased father. Harbour thinks they should make a go of it.
Wilbur doesn’t see much point in making a go of anything. Asked about his frequent near-death experiences, he sighs, “Blackness. Utter silence. It’s probably like being in Wales.” When Harbour meets single mum Alice (Henderson), a Jules Et Jim scenario develops. Just when matters seem, if not rosy, then becalmed, Harbour’s hit by a blow which forces the indulgent Wilbur to prioritise, and Alice has to make tough choices.
It’s not as grim as this sounds. A whiskey-supping psychologist offers wry advice, the erotic art of ear-licking is explored, and Julia Davis (Jam, Big Train) is garishly funny as a nurse with the hots for Wilbur. The jokes are eyebrow-raising: when a little kid asks if he can hold his hand, Wilbur snaps, “No, fuck off, nancy boy.” Maybe it’s in the timing.
Perhaps it’s the sort of non-judgmental film you don’t at first want to like: no glamour, flawed losers who are like people we know, no promise that all’s golden. But in its irreverence, pain and underplayed poeticism, it matures into a film worth loving. Life-affirming.