Sunday, August 18, 2013

"There might be blood on the paws of that dog, but it's smug complacency that killed Ian": The Comedic Brilliance of Sightseers


I don't really keep up with the latest trends in cinema so I hadn't heard about Ben Wheatley until a month ago when I began to read reviews of his latest film, A Field In England, which apparently divided the British critics into those who hated it and those who thought it was merely a disappointment. I haven't seen A Field In England but the trailer looks fantastic. On Friday night Ben Wheatley's second feature film (or perhaps third, Wikipedia wasn't completely clear about this) Sightseers (2012) was on TV here in Melbourne and I thought it was one of the best British films I've seen in years: maybe the best British film since Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank, which I've blogged and raved about several times here. 
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How to describe Sightseers? Well like all really good films its sui generis but I suppose if it fell into a genre that genre could be low-budget-black-comedy-British-road-movie. If I was pitching it to a distributor I would say that it's Thelma and Louise meets Carry On Camping meets Deliverance. Directed by Ben Wheatley it stars Alice Lowe, Eileen Davies and Steve Oram. It's the story of Chris, a ginger bearded chippy left wing Brummie who wants to show his girlfriend Tina his favourite places in England on a week long caravaning holiday. These places include a tram museum, a pencil museum and Ribblehead viaduct. If you like deadpan British humour you're in for a real treat as this is an extremely funny film. I haven't laughed this much at anything since Steve Coogan's The Trip or series 3 of The Thick Of It. It is dark and it is violent which is why it's definitely a black comedy but my God is it funny. If you're not familiar with British accents you should watch it with the close captions on because you do not want to miss a single line of this dialogue. The film's script seems to have been at least semi-improvised and how any of the actors managed to keep a straight face is beyond me. What else to say? It's beautifully shot, the soundtrack (Soft Cell and Vanilla Fudge) is perfect and the dog Poppy/Banjo is the funniest border terrier on film since There's Something About Mary. 
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Unlike most of the people in the British film industry Ben Wheatley, the director, is not some posh boy who went to private school which is why this film seems light years removed from cheesy heritage cinema fare like The King's Speech or Downton Abbey or the endless tired, recycled adaptations of Agatha Christie and the Victorian era novelists. Boarding school boys know nothing about contemporary British life which is why their films are always so staid and dull and inauthentic. It is true that heritage cinema seems to play well in America but like a Big Mac it's just a fat and sugar fix that's not really very good for any of us. Like Fish Tank, Sightseers is relevant, lively, satiric, contemporary film making at its best and I'm really excited about seeing Ben Wheatley's other stuff when it becomes available here.