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An intense dark comedy, keep an eye out for this one.
An intense dark comedy set in Edinburgh, Scotland, Crying with Laughter is the brainchild of writer/director Justin Molotnikov and stars Stephen McCole (The Acid House) as a cocaine snorting stand-up comedian on the verge of his first big break. The film opens with his character, Joey Frisk, practicing his routine on Portobello Beach, belting booze and shouting at the waves as if they were a rowdy comedy-club crowd. His act is a hit, with wry humour and jabs at a willing audience, but after he bumps into an old school friend while kicking back in a sauna, things start to get creepy.
Frank, played to the hilt by Malcolm Shields, spots Joey and introduces himself with enthusiasm, reminding him of the time Joey drunkenly burnt down a schoolmaster's office for a laugh and wound-up being sent to a borstal (a cross between a school and a prison in the UK, thankfully the project was abandoned in 1982). That night Joey tells the anecdote to his audience, making fun of Frank's attempt at conversation, "One thing you just don't do in a sauna is make chat, it's a room full of half naked men for crying out loud!" is his take on things. Of course Frank is in the audience and Joey has to eat humble pie as he's introduced to Frank's girl. Joey gets drunk and wakes up in bed, post threesome, with two of his comedy club mates. The day goes from weird to worse and eventually he's kicked out of his flat and, after getting hammered again that night and is arrested on suspicion of grievous bodily harm for apparently attacking his landlord, something he can't recall, and seems unlikely to us, the audience. During the police line-up we see Frank again, pointing the finger at Joey from behind the one way glass. Joey doesn't have a clue.
Homeless and desperate, Joey phones everyone he can think of to find a couch or room to crash in, but only Frank answers his cry and happily puts him up in the spare room of his expensive, inherited house. From here the game begins proper as Joey is manipulated and emotionally blackmailed into attending a mysterious 'Reunion' at their old schoolhouse. Stopping off at an old-folks-home run by a dope smoking goon, the ex-military and increasingly sociopathic Frank kidnaps the above mentioned schoolmaster, now suffering from senile dementia and putting up little resistance. Joey is horrified but Frank holds the cards with a threat to Jo's daughter and ex-wife. What's Frank planning? What's Joey and Frank's connection to the old schoolmaster? All the dirty laundry comes out in a powerful third act, which involves brutal, violent torture and a confession of the unthinkable.
Set in and around Edinburgh, Molotnikov uses the location to his advantage, with its winding streets and alleys, lush architecture and seedy drug and booze culture. Thrillers like this are rare, promising and delivering on shocking exposition and an intense atmosphere; it's a great little gem. The technique of punctuating chapters of the film with Joey's final stand-up routine, which is a tell-all story of what's happened in the film, works well and the acting and direction are excellent all round. Shields stands-out, as he exudes a thinly veiled menace which he masks with earnest enthusiasm and innocence, and in the end we're almost on his side after revelations about the real villain of the piece.
Keep an eye out for this one.
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