Night Bus – LFF Review

Night Bus

Welcome to the night bus: a place where tired people returning from alcohol-fuelled nights out inflict their heightened emotions on their fellow passengers. Mild Concern is no stranger to this form of London public transport and I was intrigued to see what kind of film could be spun out from it. Turns out that it’s one that is very like its inspiration: bleak, a bit uncomfortable and filled with annoying characters.

All the action occurs on a bus taking the (fictional*) N39 route towards Leytonstone late on a rainy Friday night. As someone with more than a passing knowledge of east London, the complete disregard for its geography was very distracting. The bus essentially appeared to be circling Stratford and it definitely wasn’t going south, as the driver once claimed.

The film takes the form of dropping in and out on the various passengers and their conversations, and the timeline is fractured and jumbled up. All the typical passengers are there, from arguing couples, to singing drunks, to youths playing music through their mobile phones, to those who just want-to-get-home-with-the-minimum-of-fuss-thank-you-very-much. While occasionally clunky, the dialogue is structured well enough to give a solid sense of what’s going on in so many characters’ lives. Almost all of the performances are pitch perfect – realistic in both dialogue and tone. Unfortunately, as virtually everyone you’re forced to share a real night bus is very irritating, this means so is almost every character in Night Bus.

Night Bus 2

There is no plot to speak of, just prevailing themes, and after a while only seeing snippets of the lives of these (mostly unhappy) people feels a bit pointless and sad. There are funny moments, particularly the many ways people who don’t have the bus fare try to get a free ride, but my overriding emotion by the end was sympathy for the bus driver.

Night Bus is a very London-centric film and as such it’s hard to imagine anyone without the same experience having much patience with these characters. As a Londoner myself, it served mostly as a reminder of how good nights out can end in a dispiriting manner; while bad nights out are capped off with almost unbearable journeys. I admire how well the film has represented the reality but this is also its downfall – it’s hard to think of a reason why anyone would want to spend more time on the night bus than they have to.

*The 39 actually shuttles between Putney Bridge and Clapham Junction in the south west and it doesn’t operate a night route.

Night Bus has no UK release date yet.

BFI LFF 2014