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The writer of "Billy Elliot" should have quit whilst he was
"Gabriel and Me" is as flat as "Billy Elliot" sparkled.
Jimmy Spud (the lead 11-year-old) lives in yet another north east dysfunctional family and, for reasons which remain obscure, decides he wants to train as an angel (the usual qualification - being dead - does not seem to apply in this plot). He applies to The Archangel Gabriel - in the human form of Billy Connelly - who obliges by appearing at unpredictable points to tell him how he is progressing. (Not well). Meanwhile Dad contracts lung cancer and Jimmy is disgusted when Gabriel refuses to cure him. This movie is implausible in the extreme - even if "Gabriel" is a figment of Jimmy's imagination. Apart from David Bradley's Grandad, the characters are two-dimensional, inconsistent and, worst of all, uninteresting. Any emotional content is crassly handled to the point of embarrassment - up to and including the death of Jimmy's father. On the plus side it is beautifully photographed; but can we PLEASE have a contemporary film, set in Newcastle, which DOESN'T make it look like a place which is slowly crumbling into non-existence?
Jimmy lives in a Newcastle council flat with his parents and his
grandfather. He dreams of one day being able to become an angel and
believes his application is being assessed by the angel Gabriel
himself. His attempts at making the grade don't seem to be going that
well and Gabriel seems to have reservations about his qualifications.
However, when his father is diagnosed with cancer, Jimmy realises he
must speed up his training so that he can reach the level where he is
not only an angel but can also perform a miracle to cure his father
before it is too late.
Where this film could have been an interesting character piece that is emotional and engaging, this film instead was mis-sold as a Billy Connelly comedy that covers up for the fact that it is a fairly mediocre British film that has ideas running loose around it but never really hangs together in a convincing fashion. It is a bit of a shame but essentially that is what this film is a near miss at best. The story starts out uncertainly, with a mix of fantasy and reality (?) that didn't work well together before coming down to ground with cancer diagnosed in Jimmy's father. At this point it became more interesting because it became more about Jimmy than Jimmy's fantasy. However even at this stage it didn't seem to know what to do with itself and it turned a story that should have been emotionally devastating into one that was surprisingly cold and distant. The "angel" stuff wasn't as interesting a look into Jimmy's head as it should have been, while the real world aspect wasn't handled that well and only churned out the sort of material I expected rather than anything worth stopping with it for. It is a shame because it does have its moments but generally it doesn't gel as well as it should and certainly didn't touch me like I knew it should have done.
The cast aren't much help. Landless is natural and convincing despite having an annoying accent (personal issue, I accept) but the material lets him down and he is pretty much alone in carrying the film. Glen is good as a "p*ssed off dad" but this lack of range doesn't help the film at all and prevented me caring about him and his family. Rowell was similarly too simplistic, while Bradley came straight out of the cliché handbook as the kindly, wise grandfather. Connelly adds his name but not much else if anything he distracts from the main story with what should have been a character that was much more in the background.
Overall an average film that has its moments but generally fails to come together to fulfil the potential that the story had. Landless is quite good but he is let down l=by the material just like the rest of the cast, who seem unable to do anything more than the basics with their parts. Worth missing just because it doesn't really do anything that well.
Writer Lee Hall's story will stick in my mind purely for forcing me to relive my father's death from cancer 18 years earlier. I was roughly the same age as the kid in the movie, and living in the North-East of England where the film is set, so I identified with him all the more. For me personally, then, the latter stages of the film were very upsetting indeed - but two year on, taking the film as a whole, I regard Gabriel and Me as mediocre and otherwise forgettable, all told.
I almost made a fool of myself when I was going to start this review by
saying " This movie reminded me of BILLY ELLIOT " but then I looked up
the resume of screenwriter Lee Hall only to find out that he was the
guy who wrote BILLY ELLIOT so it's Mr Hall who's making a fool of
himself not me
Am I being a bit cruel on him ? No because Lee has something most other aspiring screenwriters from Britain don't have - He has his foot in the door , he has previously written a successful British movie that won awards and made money at the box office and what does he do next ? He gives the audience more of the same
Young Jimmy Spud lives on some kitchen sink estate . He is bullied at school and no one loves him . The only thing keeping him going is that he has aspirations to be a ballet dancer . No actually he has aspirations to be an angel but considering his household he may as well be a ballet dancer . He has a macho waster of a father who thinks " Ballet dancers are a bunch of poofs while his granddad says " Ballet dancers are as tough as any man you could meet . I remember seeing the Bolshoi ballet ... " Yup Ballet is a main talking point on a run down British council estate those days - NOT . Come to think of it neither is left wing politics which seems to be the sole preserve of middle class do gooders who live in nice big houses , so right away everything about this set up feels ridiculously false
Another major criticism is that this is a film that has no clue who it's trying to appeal to . I have often criticised Channel 4 for broadcasting movies at totally inappropriate times ( THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT at 6 am for example ) but they showed this at 2 am and for once they've got it spot on . Considering the story involves politics , ballet dancing ( Gawd I hate it ) lung cancer and poverty there's no way this can be deemed suitable for a family audience but since the main protagonist is an 11 year old child and features angels and ballet dancers ( Don't blame me if I seem obsessed with the subject - there was no need to refer to them ) there's not much here for an intelligent adult audience either .
Of course if Lee Hall had been told at the script development stage by the producers that he should write a story featuring a schoolboy and an angel and had flatly refused saying that he wanted to write about other themes and stories then I will apologise but throughout the movie you do get the feeling that once the film was completed it was going to be marketed to the exact same audience who enjoyed BILLY ELLIOT
As we fly and swoop in on the film in the opening sequence we are given a taste of what is to follow in this graceful movie. Udayan Prasad presents a sensitive and emotive film with a great performance from the young Mr. Landless.
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