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Tom is forty. He walks out one day, rather abruptly, on his wife and baby boy and his seemingly happy life. He finds himself living on the streets of London. One night alone in a park he is mistaken for a gay man and is set upon by a gang of violent thugs. In A&E the next day Tom meets Aidan, the happiest, fast-talking individual you are ever likely to meet, the complete opposite of Tom. Too polite, or too weak to ask him to leave him alone Tom tries to get away from this child-like man but with little joy, Aidan sticks to Tom like glue. Tom reluctantly becomes involved in Aidan's life and he quickly realizes that Aidan has problems too. Aidan's 'girlfriend' Linda verbally and physically abuses him on a regular basis. Will Tom overcome his own problems in order to help his new 'friend'? Will Tom ever make it back home - and why exactly did Tom leave home in the first place? Written by
A well-told but shallow South London character tale
Treacle Jr. is a film about a single personality. The inexhaustible gregariousness of Aidan Gillen, who plays his namesake, is enough to carry the role and so the movie. His lovable, ham-fisted optimism eventually overcomes our resistance to his rather claustrophobic, manic volubility. Perhaps Aidan's like a socially marginalised version of Happy-Go-Lucky's Poppy.
The first Mike Leigh film one brings to mind for comparison though is Naked. Here is another flight from the North, yet more eventful search for refuge on the streets of London. Only Tom is neither forced to flee, nor does he answer the itchy question, why?. This is because Tom isn't important. He's there to enable Aidan, to throw him into relief and catalyse his fluctuating fortunes. It's upon this drama's surface that Aidan's effervescent consciousness fizzes. It's also this narrow focus that leaves the film rather dry.
Writer-director Jamie Thraves tells the story decently enough and works hand-in-glove with Gillen's portrait of Aidan. Yet Rhian Steele's lively Linda aside, the rest of the production is pretty average, from acting and shooting to editing. Admittedly, the film is an exemplar of pragmatism and economy, given that it was made for only £30,000. But too much was sacrificed or allowed to slide. There's no connection between Aidan's social awkwardness and the mute, middle-class breakdown that brings Tom and Aidan together; no exploration of that chink in Linda's manipulative street-facade. To make a very unfair comparison, this is a paddling pool of characterisation besides the reservoir of Michael Winterbottom's South London magnum opus Wonderland. A nice story but nothing more. 4/10
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