Cool, sophisticated Tolen (Ray Brooks) has a monopoly on womanizing - with a long like of conquests to prove it - while the naïve, awkward Colin (Michael Crawford) desperately wants a piece of it. But when Colin falls for an innocent country girl (Rita Tushingham), it's not long before the self-assured Tolen moves in for the kill. Is all fair in love and war, or can Colin get the the knack and beat Tolen at his own game?Written by
the bizarre, sometimes funny, awkward, experimental break in-between Lester's Beatles movies
The Knack is a comedy that is wildly exuberant in its editing style, sort of like Lester came out of a marathon of Godard movies from the period but on a bunch of pop rocks or some other candy confection, and he and his editor Anthony Gibbs (who was more comfortable with the 'Kitchen Sink' type movies than something like Hard Days Night, just look at his credits to see his name attached to nearly all the major titles) decided to go wild. Sometimes this works for the sake of the energy and decidedly... uncertain, going-in-many-directions-not-settled nature of the main character Colin (Michael Crawford), and sometimes it doesn't.
Where it doesn't work for certain are the cut-always, almost in a strange, semi-satirical but documentary style where older people comment on these young people, whether it's Crawford or Rita Tushingham's character Nancy, who has only one real goal for the most part which is to find the YMCA in town, and they say things like "Mods and rockers" or "why in my day..." and things like that. I get what Lester was going for, that we have these outside perspectives almost as a commentary *on them*, but those little bits (sprinkled throughout the movie) are dated. Where the movie does still work is in creating a genuinely unsettling tone, and this creates a lot of moments of unexpected comedy - at times this is really a story about guys arguing over space in a flat and moving things around, bordering, if it were in lessor hands or those of today, like a sitcom, and then... it's also a story of toxic masculinity as a part of it.
Another thing about looking at historical context - a year later, a version of the roommate/sorta-friend Tolen's type would appear as the "anti-hero(ish)" persona of Michael Caine's Alfie. But where Caine is an actor who can sort of make you feel if not much sympathy or empathy then at least some human understanding to his character (also, he's the lead, so what can you do but go for the ride with him), Ray Brooks is positively slimy as this guy who is somehow going to show Colin how to "get the Knack", which means how to get women. Somehow this is also communicated earlier, without much dialog needed, when Colin, as the school-teacher he is, for a moment gets distracted along with the other kids as they ogle at the girls outside (though he snaps out of it to try and be a disciplinarian... which he's bad at).
But anyway, Brooks at first comes off seeming like the "cool" playboy type, or, more accurately (and I have to think Lester meant this as an intentional homage), Marcello Mastroianni out of 8 1/2 or La Dolce Vita (he even at one point does what seems like a "mock" whipping when Colin is playing around with Nancy... and then it doesn't seem like playing around anymore). Yet there's another level of commentary going on here; a version of this kind of movie could feasibly even show up many years after this as like, say, a college comedy or even a romantic comedy (an edgier one, but still). Watch as Brooks corners Tushingham in that room - his body language, his demeanor (does he *ever* genuinely smile, is the actor's question and choice he goes for, and its effective), it all leads to the question of being a sexual predator; how he got the "birds" he's had before one may question by this point - did he always have "the Knack", or did some of these girls not care so much if he had the hair or suit or Marcello glasses of whatever?
The point is, this leads to the last stretch of the movie, which becomes... kind of a very odd joke about rape. Of course Nancy isn't really raped, not in the way we think as technically speaking.... but isn't it all the same the kind of 'rape' or sexual assault and language that has made things as of late in this country so f***ed up? It was impossible not to think about that, and yet Lester finds... humor in this(?)
I think the key is that he goes all out about it - she wakes up after fainting from being so provoked (and yes, there *is* that element, let's not ever leave Tolen off the hook here, creep he is), and then proceeds to say 'RAPE!' over and over again (in one belly-laugh moment she goes up to a random house, knocks, the person answers, Rita says 'rape', and the old woman at the door says dead-pan, 'no thanks.'). It's not the rape that is funny, but the public's reactions to it, how it IS a chaotic and horrible thing in reality, but if it didn't actually happen... well, can it still be funny? I wonder what most people coming to this fresh would think about how Lester treats this material and these characters.
It's a strange combination since it's a light-hearted affair - the highlight of the film involves when Colin and Tom, the other (new) roommate, first meet Nancy while they're collecting a bed frame, and have to move it themselves, on foot, across the city, and this scored to a jubilant, jazzy, wonderful and even happy kind of music by John Barry - but it deals in real hurt and pain that is caused by men who won't take bloody no for an answer. It's not something Lester is out to solve (I have no idea how it was in the play this was based on), however he does find a cinematic grammar that breaks apart how a mind thinks in moments that rattle the consciousness or when one's mind wanders and so on. It's a brash experiment that doesn't hold up as well as Lester's Beatles films, but it's fun and original while it lasts, which is at a fairly brisk 82 minutes.
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