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'Festival' is a black comedy set during the annual Edinburgh Fringe festival. The film is based around both the judging of a major comedy award and the performers at one of the smaller venues. Various plot strands interweave, including the bitter relationship between a famous self-obsessed British comic and his ever-suffering assistant, an actress debuting at the festival with a one-woman show about Dorothy Wordsworth and a depressed, rich housewife who spies on the stoned Canadian theatre troupe to whom she has rented out her house. Written by
A rough ensemble comedy that could have been developed fuller but is still fun, energetic and enjoyable
It's that time of year again and Edinburgh is awash with artists coming to perform at the on the fringe of the festival. Among them is Dwight Swan a famous comedian who has rather let it go to his head; his put-upon PA Petra; Tommy O'Dwyer, an Irish comedian who has been at the festival for nine consecutive years without a mention in the comedy awards; a young woman who is staging an one-woman show about Dorothy Wordsworth in the challenging 9am slot; a bubbly "Jewish" comedian keen to do whatever it takes to get to the top and a local BBC journalist with some complex relationships.
From the creator of The Book Group and featuring a host of recognisable faces from British comedy, I was intrigued by this film and initially quite drawn in by its sharp edge, natural feel, laughs and multi-character approach to the narrative. It had energy and it captured the feel of a festival (albeit I cannot speak for the Edinburgh one in particular). This makes for a good start to the film as it sets up lots of characters and also has an affectionate at the types of people and acts at the festival not ever being overly cruel but not shying away from poking fun where it is deserved. This makes for an enjoyable film but not an ultimately satisfying one. As the film goes on it puts more onus on the stories rather than the references and this is where it could have been stronger. Some of the stories are pretty good but the majority don't really hang together that well and are little more than a sense of a time and place rather than being engaging.
Griffin may struggle with this but she does everything else pretty well. The film is well directed and uses the festival itself to good effect. As writer she produces sharp characters who may be easily pigeonholed but rarely in a lazy fashion. The cast respond well to the fun material, although none of them really succeed in developing their characters much further than Griffin had taken them. Ayoade has a simple character and does it well while O'Dowd does a solid "blustering Irishman" similar to his IT Crowd character. Cassidy and Nardini are both impressive and indeed most of the cast turn in solid performances in mostly small roles.
Overall this is an amusing ensemble comedy that benefits greatly from Griffin's own experience on the Edinburgh Fringe. The material doesn't develop much beyond a certain point and does have a rough, messy feel to it but this is not a fault so much as the idea imitating the feel of the Fringe itself. Not perfect and understandable why it didn't ever grab much of an audience but an enjoyably rough comedy nonetheless.
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