Well it gives me great relief to start off my coverage of this year’s film festival to say that the co-ordinators have picked themselves a winner for their opening film.
Brendan Gleeson stars in this Irish black comedy, the directorial debut of John Michael McDonagh which is every bit as hilarious as you’d expect coming from the brother of celebrated playwright Martin McDonagh. Doyle (Gleeson) is the lone member of Galway’s local police enforcement who tends to do things his own way, making him unpopular with colleagues from neighbouring regions. Don Cheadle plays an FBI agent somewhat out of water in rural Ireland, trying to catch a group of drug dealers who are awaiting a $500 million dollar shipment of narcotics (or is it half a billion?). I can already hear you groaning at the inevitable odd couple, buddy movie that lay ahead, but don’t be fooled; this is Gleeson’s movie from start to finish – a combination of his wonderful deadpan delivery and hilarious scripting (“I’m Irish, racism is part of my culture”) lead to this being one of the funniest films I’ve seen all year.
It’s not just Gleeson however who is worth watching in this film; the cast at large give great deliveries of some really tight, well written dialogue, with (Casta favourite) Mark Strong putting in a particularly notable supporting performance as a philosophising drug trafficker. It’s only really Cheadle who doesn’t have much to do, but as the one straight man amongst a relatively oddball cast, his only really purpose is to move the plot along at various points – a task he completes very competently.
Instant comparisons are obviously going to be drawn between this and In Bruges given the involvement of both Gleeson and one of the McDonagh brothers, however other than their wicked sense of humour and great dialogue, there’s not much more to tie them together. For me The Guard is the better film as Gleeson is given so much more to chew on than in his earlier outing and there’s not a spot of Colin Farrell in sight.
Should you go and see it? Yes. It’s a very funny and enjoyable watch – it is, however, the opening film of the festival, so I’d be surprised if tickets were still available. Your best bet then will be to keep an eye on the Best of the Fest line up when (slash if) it’s announced, or to go see it when its (current scheduled) release date of the 19th August rolls around – it’s only showing at a limited number of screens around the UK, but is well worth hunting out.
Next up: Argentinean effort Phase 7 – in which a mysterious pandemic is killing off much of the world’s population. The focus here however isn’t on a crack team of scientists trying to find a cure, nor a rogue terrorist cell hell bent on causing mayhem and destruction, we instead follow events through the eyes of young couple Coco and Pipi whose residential building is quarantined early into the virus outbreak.
It’s Coco who bears the brunt of the screentime as events are quickly focussed on the inhabitants of their apartment block over those happening in the outside world. It’s no surprise then that suspicion begins to fall on others within the building and it’s not long before the neighbours are all up in arms with each other; Coco then has to rely on the mysterious (and more than a little paranoid) Horacio to help him take care of business and ensure the safety of his heavily pregnant other half.
The story itself is passable but largely forgettable; certain points feel too contrived or simply too convenient, and we’re never really given much of an insight on to what this mysterious virus is – whether that be the cause, the cure or simply the symptoms. Certain points are forgivable, however when characters begin to act inexplicably only for you to find out after the fact that one of the major symptoms of the virus is a rapid onset of delirium, you can’t help but feel that you really should have been told that somewhat earlier.
Despite the fact that this is obviously a low budget film, it feels reasonably well put together; however two things really take off some of the sheen and both are with regards to the subtitles (bear with me): first up, they’re in a bold white font which can often prove difficult to read – especially when there is a lot of light or bright colours in the shot, secondly, and more importantly, the grammar throughout is fairly ropey and there were a few instances where I was scratching my head trying to decipher what the characters were saying (after having had trouble reading it on the screen, naturally). Foibles yes, but important nonetheless – after all when you’re being asked to suspend your disbelief for ninety minutes, it’s the little things that will either seal your conviction or take you out of the experience entirely – these things took the professionalism of the whole film down a notch or two, which is a shame because for the most part I was impressed with how the obvious budget limitations hadn’t adversely affected the production.
Should you go and see it? I’m fairly down the middle on this one because, whilst it’s a nice effort in parts, the niggles mentioned above take it from being an interesting idea to a missed opportunity. That being the case I’d recommend that you give it a miss at the festival and instead hunt out Right at Your Door from about five years ago which is similar in both concept and scale, although feels much more well rounded in both its production and in the story itself.
I’ve never really been a fan of films with multiple interlinking narratives (think Crash, Love Actually, 184.108.40.206 – that kind of thing) because as much as it’s nice to have a big ensemble cast, or the implication that one set of actions can affect someone else far away, I’ve always thought that each of the micro-narratives has to be interesting enough in itself for me to buy into the thing as a whole – no film has been able to do that for me yet and unfortunately Fast Romance does nothing to change that fact.
The concept is simple; seven people from Glasgow go speed dating, then stuff happens. One of the stories is a little funnier than the others, one a little more sad and one a little more serious; were it to end there it might not be such a problem, but half of the characters know each other so when they’re not involved in their own romantic stories, they’re busy having tea and toast with their friends in even more nano-narratives. This mass interweaving of stories and events leads to the whole thing feeling like one of those late night extended editions of Hollyoaks that that used to roll around once every three months or so (and perhaps still do – I shudder at the thought). The humour is right at that same level too, drawing most of the laughs from over reliance on bad language and goofy facial expressions.
As a whole Fast Romance feels overly bloated; it has some nice ideas sure, but there’s just too much going on for the good stuff to really shine through – I can easily see this being the start of a new soap, and would in fact be surprised if none of those involved actually had experience writing for TV before. The problem there though is that this isn’t TV and you’re only selling yourself short when your film gets to a point and just ends seemingly halfway through some of the characters’ stories; there is no “next episode” to rely on here, only a post event monologue from one of the leads to fill you in on “what happened next” – shame they couldn’t have done that with most of the fat in the proceedings…
I feel a little bad ripping on such a low budget independent effort, however that’s what you open yourself up to when you put yourself up on such a large stage – were the same team to come up with something new in the future, I’d probably give it a go; there’s promise here, albeit obscured behind the annoying quick jump zoom shots and the over intrusive soundtrack.
Should you go and see it? I wouldn’t if I were you – whilst there are a few laugh out loud moments, the film is overlong and no one of the many narratives are captivating enough to really draw you in. Should it ever roll around to being on channel four late one night then I’m sure you could do worse if there was nothing you’d rather watch on any other channel, but in terms of the Film Festival, I’d be very surprised if your £9 couldn’t be spent a lot better.
Day one done and three films down – six and nineteen (respectively) to go! Come back tomorrow for reviews of Bobby Fischer Against the World, Our Day Will Come and Shut Up Little Man!