Benny & Jolene is an improvised British comedy about a folk duo travelling to their first music festival. That is roughly the extent of the narrative although if I were feeling more generous I could talk about how Jolene (Charlotte Ritchie) finds herself selling out and changing her style to please their record label while Benny (Craig Roberts) finds himself pushed to the sidelines as he pines for Jolene and the music they used to perform. The plot is the bare bones on which the two leads are left to build the body of the film through their performances and improvisations but the result is something slightly less than the sum of its parts.
Roberts has never put a comedic foot wrong since he first caught everyone’s eye in Submarine and Ritchie repeats the awkward funny charm that has helped make Fresh Meat so successful but these two on their best game simply aren’t enough to make a film. There is so little to the film beyond the characters that there is little to keep you engaged from scene to scene. Roberts and Ritchie are fine company but you want them to move their performances to a film with a little more to it. There is no message here, just mildly amusing scene followed by mildly amusing scene.
The improvisational style gives the film a feeling of authenticity that is frustrating as often as it is engaging. Improvisation can lead to small comedy gems within scenes but also leaves each scene to run on far longer than an audience has patience for and results in numerous edits within a single shot that quickly moves from a stylistic choice to a jarring effect that hampers the film’s flow.
The great lead performances almost save the film but at the end of the day the cast simply weren’t given enough to go on. The supporting cast includes the likes of the excellent Dolly Wells and Rosamund Hanson but they suffer a similar fate of doing good work in a weak film. Perhaps I am being too harsh; the film is sweet and funny and was an enjoyable experience but it didn’t give me any real cinematic sustenance. With a little more plot and a stricter script this film has the potential to have been a real winner, instead we’ll have to settle for bronze.
Benny & Jolene
is on limited release in the UK from tomorrow.
Only a few minutes into Richard Ayoade’s second film as director I wrote in my note book in capital letters “I LOVE THIS” and ninety minutes later I did not disagree with myself. Ayoade’s first feature Submarine was a hilarious story of young love that was very much grounded in reality but shot with a distinctive style that stood it out from the crowd. With The Double Ayoade has truly evolved as a film-maker as he has taken his unique eye for film and run with it to create a surreal masterpiece that David Lynch would be proud of.
In The Double Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon James, a man who is so dull and unremarkable that no one notices when his exact double, James Simon, starts working at his office and slowly begins to steal his work, win over his coworkers, and steal the love of his life. The Double is set in a universe similar to ours but slightly askew as the world resembles a vision of the future from forty years ago. The technology is timeless in that it has not nor ever will exist; computers are resplendent with knobs and dials and the underground train stops inside the office building. Ayoade has created an entire world in which to set his doppelgänger thriller.
While the entire cast, and many more of Ayoade’s friends, pop up in minor roles this is far removed from Submarine. Everything within The Double from the lighting and set design to dialogue and camera movements is heavily stylised and the film moves with an occasionally dreamlike, occasionally frenetic pace. At first the film was a little jarring, and I never quite found myself connecting with some of the characters, but this is a film that isn’t here to patronise its audience so you have to hold on tight with both hands and let the film take you where it wants you to go.
In this bizarre, almost dystopian reality, we watch as Eisenberg struggles to battle his much more successful double. While Simon finds himself gradually removed from people’s memories and his employer’s computer system his double James is being heaped with praise and is romancing every woman in Simon’s life. Simon’s life was bleak enough as it was without someone coming along and showing him how he could have been living it. As Simon finds himself pushed to the brink of his mind and his existence the conflict comes to a head and the film ended with me just the wrong side of baffled. The only trouble with truly surreal cinema is that it will never quite connect on the same level as a film about a young boy falling in love.
I really can’t do justice to the unique visuals of The Double here in writing. Or for that matter the sound design which was INCREDIBLE, trust me. Instead you are going to have to seek out this gem for yourself when it get’s a UK release.
Some may find it impenetrable but I absolutely love this timeless masterpiece. Slightly too baffling for five stars but a bold and brave film by a director who seems set to continually impress and surprise. Actually… go on then, have your five stars.
The Double is in UK cinemas from 4th April 2014.
It’s no secret that we love Submarine, and it will take an impressive batch of films in the next five months for it not to reach our top 10 of 2011. This tale of a teenage boy dealing with his parent’s troubled marriage and struggling with a first love is as near perfect as any film this year. Richard Ayoade’s direction is stunning, unpolished and creates frame after frame of gorgeous visuals.
The cast all seem to understand the tone of the film perfectly, from Yasmin Paige and Craig Roberts as the awkward young couple, to Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor as the awkward parents on the verge of breakdown. Only Paddy Considine gives a slightly misjudged performance as a marginally too broad mystic healer.
Submarine is a must-see and for me, a vital addition to my DVD collection.
The DVD has a fair few added features including a commentary with director Richard Ayoade, author of the Submarine novel Joe Dunthorne and director of photography Erik Wilson, cast and crew Q&As, music video, deleted scenes and interviews. The Q&As are taken from the film’s appearances at various film festivals and mostly consist of Ayoade being completely endearing and self-effacing while avoiding answering any serious question directly.
There is also a full version of Through The Prism with Graham T. Purvis, essentially a long performance from Paddy Considine in character and to camera, and footage from a test shoot which shows just how well planned and considered Ayoade’s style was. With such a low-budget we are sadly lacking any form of a making-of documentary.
This is an essential release and is out on DVD and Blu-ray right now. You won’t regret it.
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Submarine is pretty great.
Here we have a British film that is not gritty, involves zero gangsters and is not a bland romantic comedy. Instead we have a story of a young boy worried because his parents haven’t had their dimmer switch down halfway for months and who is forced into a relationship by a girl at school, who then dictates what he writes about her in his diary.
Submarine is written and directed by Richard Ayoade (Moss from The IT Crowd), and both are done in a playful way which show a love for film and a real raw talent.
The two young leads Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige carry the film well, easily matching the more established supporting cast which includes Paddy Considine and Sally Hawkins.
Submarine is a fun and effortless watch that does not lack in heart. It has no UK release yet but when it does I suggest you go and try not to smile.