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Whilst watching Richard Ayoade playing uber-nerd Moss in the hit-and- miss sitcom The IT Crowd, or playing TV producer and actor Dean Lerner in the criminally underrated Garth Merenghi's Darkplace, the last thing I pictured him doing was confidently directing a feature-length film. I don't mean to knock him, as I've always felt he was an extremely talented comedy performer and writer, and he brightens up whatever he appears in, no matter how crap the material. But here he has focused all his ambition, influences and talent into creating a truly memorable debut.
Tate (Craig Roberts), a strange, intelligent and unnervingly confident schoolboy who falls for an equally strange girl Jordana (Yasmin Paige). After an incident which sees Oliver reluctantly participate in a spot of casual bullying that causes a girl to fall into a muddy pond, Oliver and Jordana begin their unusual romance. All seems to be going well until Oliver suspects his mother Jill (Sally Hawkins) of having an affair with cheesy self-help guru Graham (Paddy Considine), who lives next door. His father Lloyd (Noah Taylor) is so passive and uncaring that he is practically a zombie, and so Oliver takes it upon himself to rescue his parent's broken marriage whilst holding his own fragile relationship together.
The film arrives amidst critical praise and festival word-of-mouth, and the promise of a real future talent in director Richard Ayoade. I'm pleased to announce that the film is every bit as good as I've heard. I had my doubts, concerned with the film's 'quirky indie comedy' tag that films are so lazily lumbered with these days. But while the film is quirky, indie and a comedy, it finds its influences lying elsewhere - from the greatest of all film movements, the French New Wave. From the start this is clear with the Godard-esque large lettering with strong colours for the opening credits and title cards. Everything about the film screams New Wave, from its stylistic boldness, self-awareness, and even the unconventionally handsome and turtle-neck-wearing leading man.
One of the main strengths of the film is it's awareness of slipping into cliché. The quirkiness and magic of the French New Wave have been copied and ripped-off so often that nowadays when it is used it can come across as pretentious. But Oliver's intelligence and amusing voice-over frequently touches on this. At the start of his relationship with Jordana, they spend their days on the beach and frequenting industrial wastelands, and Oliver comments that he will put these moments in his 'Super 8 memories', cue shots of the couple running and laughing on the beach, shot in that grainy, home-video look. He also fantasises that he is in a film, and that the film will end up with him searching for Jordana on a beach and how it will end in an arty-farty, pretentious manner aimed to encourage discussion among chin-strokers. It's a great little trick and you have to admire the film's refreshing self- assurance.
The film is also very, very funny, with Craig Roberts proving an extremely talented comedy performer, all pale-skinned, wide-eyed awkwardness, and a pronounced, high pitched voice that almost resembles many of Ayoade's TV characters. The humour is often similar in style to Wes Anderson's (dare I say it?) indie comedies, which are some of the best comedies, if not films, to come out in the last fifteen years. Most of the humour stems from Oliver's increasing desperation to lose his virginity to Jordana, especially in one scene where they find themselves home alone, only for Oliver to light candles around his bed, and lie open-legged on his side in a cheesy pose. Jordana, with her eyes closed waiting for the surprise, opens them and deadpans 'f****n' hell, you're a serial killer.'
A real gem, and a film that definitely introduces the potentially massive talent of director Richard Ayoade, star Craig Roberts, and Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner, who performs the wonderful music. And also a rare opportunity to see some of the beautiful sights of Swansea, where I currently reside.
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