After a long (too long, I’ve missed it) break WHYS… is back. Sorry for being away the last few weeks, new projects and hectic schedules have been the cuplrit, but I’m back now.
If you have seen, or subsequently see, any of the films featured on WHYS…? please use the comments or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know what you make of the movies or the article. Thanks.
STARTER FOR 10
DIR: Tom Vaughn
What’s It All About?
Based on a novel by David Nicholls (author of One Day, whose own adaptation opens soon), and set in 1985, the film follows Brian Jackson (James McAvoy) through his first year at University as he makes friends, falls for girls (Rebecca Hall and Alice Eve) and tries to make the grade for Bristol University’s University Challenge team. Inevitably there are comic complications on all sides.
Why Haven’t You Seen It?
Released in 2006, when the most popular comedies were Borat and The Devil Wears Prada, Starter for 10 just seemed to get a little lost, and to not quite find its audience. Maybe it wasn’t aggressively marketed enough, maybe the period setting put people off, maybe James McAvoy was just not a big enough star, maybe it looked too generic, but, despite good reviews, it just never quite made the connection.
Why Should You See It?
There’s often a misconception about me; that I don’t like genre. That’s crap, I love genre, genre cinema may not always be where the most groundbreaking work is found, but it can still be just as effective, just as much fun, and just as affecting as any of the artier side of film. The thing is, with so much that has gone before, if you’re making an unashamed genre film like tarter For 10, you’ve got to do it really well. Starter For 10 does it really well.
David Nicholls adapted his own novel to the screen, and while there’s nothing unfamiliar here, and the characterisation is, by necessity of the film’s 92 minute running time, broad, there is much to like in the writing. James McAvoy’s Brian is a slightly unusual protagonist; neither a runaway self assured success nor a stammering nerdy loser, instead he’s rather believably awkward, but still quite charming (which allows us – just – to buy both Alice Eve and Rebecca Hall being attracted to him) and he’s also realistically intelligent, without his occasional bumbling and several stupid decisions seeming out of character. The plot and the other characters; Eve’s fantasy object buxom blonde, Hall’s serial protester hippy chick, Benedict Cumberbatch as the stuck up captain of the University Challenge team and Dominic Cooper as Brian’s brash mate Spencer, are all basically what you’d expect them to be.
It’s hard, though, to mind, because it’s all done with such charm. The script is witty, and the laughs come, if not so thick and fast as in a Ghostbusters, with welcome regularity. Big laughs are frequent, and the smile seldom leaves my face when I watch this movie. That’s also a function of the performances from a very game and likeable cast. McAvoy is a great actor, and he can emote like nobody’s business on screen, but he’s also got a nice light touch (also demonstrated in Wimbledon). Technically he’s great here, nailing a note perfect English accent, but he also knows exactly how over the top he can go (see the scene when a stoned Brian is confronted by Alice’s naked parents), and how to bring the performance down to a realistic place (especially in his scenes with Rebecca Hall). Okay, choosing between Alice Eve and Rebecca Hall isn’t a problem that will have many of us thinking ‘oh, poor bastard’, but McAvoy makes Brian identifiable and good company.
Alice Eve and Rebecca Hall (playing, respectively, Alice and Rebecca) appear at first to be archetypes. You’d expect Eve to be the dumb, shallow bimbo and Hall the serious, thoughtful one. Kudos to the film and the actors for going in a classier direction here. It’s always, always clear who Brian will end up with, but the film doesn’t do either of its female leads down. Alice may be impetuous, but she’s not stupid, or even out to hurt people, and Rebecca knows – more so than Brian – how to have fun. Usually in a rom-com one of the two potential partners is so obviously awful that the film can be risible, here they’re just different. In addition, both actresses give fine and likeable performances, but I have to say that for me it’s Rebecca Hall who steals the honours, though that’s perhaps more to do with the character, whose intelligence, Anti-Thatcher politics and ability to pick a great new year’s record (to say nothing of her knee-weakening beauty) have me wondering why I can’t meet a girl like her.
There’s a lot to like here. Benedict Cumberbatch is hilariously stuck up as Patrick, Dominic Cooper steals one of the film’s best lines (“I didn’t resort to violence, violence was my first choice“) and is generally excellent as Spencer and the whole University Challenge set piece (including Mark Gattis’ priceless turn as Bamber Gascgoine) works really well. I wish there were more romantic comedies like this about; films where I actually want the characters to be happy, where I laugh at the jokes and smile at the love story. It’s not groundbreaking, but it is a genuinely enjoyable film, and we could always do with one more of those.
I could have picked several here, but this first date for Brian and Rebecca captures the tone of the film (and why I’m in love with Rebecca) really nicely.
How Can You See It?
It’s on the BBC IPlayer here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/g81hq/ and available on DVD and Blu Ray.
Love and quantum mechanics in A WOMAN IN WINTER.