In the heat of the summer of 1976, keen drama teacher Vivienne fights sweltering heat and general teenage apathy to put on an end of year music version of Shakespeare's The Tempest. To engage her students, she uses hits of the time, which will be performed by a fresh young cast led by rising star Aneurin Barnard. Written by
People have complained that this film is too formulaic, it's too glossy and sugar-coated and that it's so steeped in saccharine sentimentality that it will make the overpriced, syrupy Coke that you bought from the multiplex foyer seem sour and flat.
While there is definitely truth in the above statement, I think enjoyment of this (and any) film depends on your attitude. If you go into this film expecting to see some gritty socio-political drama focussing on the oppression of Welsh mining classes, you will be sorely disappointed. You will come out complaining about how populist it is, how it's so conventionally structured and emotionally sensationalist etc, etc.
The poster is a lovely snapshot of a group of idyllic young friends having fun in the blistering summer of 1976. It's all orange and glowing. The trailer gives a taste of how packed the film is with poppy love songs of the era, how predictable the premise makes the plot, how familiar the angsty teenage characters are, how petty the conflicts seem in this hazy summer utopia of a bygone Britain and how indulgently reminiscent it is.
It's called Hunky Dory.
The signs are there - everything about the design screams out feel-good mainstream movie. It is unashamedly populist, unashamedly sensational and is obviously going to be as conventional as any piece of popular cinema. There's nothing subtle about the way the film advertises this sense of style.
To know all this, watch the film then criticize it for the glaringly obvious is lazy criticism, at best. Don't go and see the film if you know you're going to suffer an adverse reaction to the sheer amount of light-heartedness going on. That's like going into a screening of Shrek with your arms folded for the entire movie then coming out in a huff saying to your bemused/horrified children "the guy's an ogre but not once did I see a man's skin being peeled off while he was still alive."
For those more willing to accept this film for what it so blatantly is, I'd say it's an easy, feel-good film with and great 70's soundtrack (from the likes of Bowie and ELO) and superb Welsh accents throughout. A coming-of-age film set in a specific place and moment in British history, it shares an obvious affinity to Ricky Gervais and Stephen Mechant's Cemetery Junction as well as Billy Elliot (a couple of the producers made this film too).
There are a lot of characters so the attempt to squeeze in all of their individual stories is overly ambitious, but the cast are great. Minnie Driver is easily lovable and I get the feeling you'll be seeing a lot more of Aneurin Barnard's face in the future. The ending is a little bit vague and they try and remedy this by giving a 'where are they now' sequence during the end credits which is a bit half-baked (no reference to the recreational activities of the time intended).
Overall, a likable film with some nice messages (namely Karl Marx's sentiment "don't let the b*st*rds grind you down") and a well-polished style that makes for easy watching.
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