Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland

Year: 2018
Directed by: Kate Davis, David Heilbroner

Written by Jessica Peña

Three years since the alleged suicide of Sandra Bland, the new HBO documentary Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland looks to explore the varying angles and perspectives surrounding her case. On July 15, 2015, Bland was found hung in her jail cell in Waller County, Texas after being arrested at a traffic stop just three days prior. Her death was ruled a suicide but has since left too many questions unanswered. Seeded within a culture of grizzly police brutality and growing racially-motivated violence, her case sparked immense outrage and grief. In this documentary, there’s so many things to unpack about the case, but more than anything, we get a personal glimpse into who Sandra Bland was as she tells her own story.

Co-directors Kate Davis and David Heilbroner allow Sandra to become a charismatic presence in the documentary, letting her welcome us and showing us the things that enraged and engaged her. “Good afternoon, my beautiful kings and queens,” she’d say all through her personal vlogs. She didn’t believe in the silence that tainted closed minds; she was putting herself out there as a voice to enlighten the masses. Sandra was standing up for things such as children’s education on black history, learning to love the skin you’re in as well as one’s natural hair, and pushing to open the conversation of racial privilege. She was an activist, an empowered woman of color, an aunt, a daughter.

A glaring, yet powerful, approach is how the documentary treats all sides of the case. Davis and Heilbroner devote a spotlight to both sides of the sphere, interviewing Texas authorities as well as following the Bland family closely through legal affairs. It’s at times unsettling to be watching those who surrounded her within her last hours take the screen to explain their circumstances. Details become blurry and the pulls of this sudden legal thriller tips on the edge. This unfavorable perspective of the story prompts viewers to dissect the parallels in police misconduct and the systemic shortcomings that led to Bland’s life being cut short. The film makes an effort to reach out and inform you. Her ”Sandy Speaks” video series alone proves the relevance in her word, the hardy attitude that makes her reported death an unbelievable happening

Hearing first hand from Bland’s family as early as ten days after her death (the time filming began) is an emotionally powerful stance on this wonderful woman’s legacy. Patience and care blossom in the structure of the film and it blends Sandra’s strong-willed personality into a message of unashamed activism and strength. This film is a thoughtful ode to Sandra’s life and it’s just as powerful and important as she was.

Say Her Name is a momentous piece of documentary filmmaking that’ll no doubt bear a cultural impact, as it should! During the runtime we learn more about Sandra and are shaken to the core at just how much of a loss her death has truly signified. Through this documentary we remember her for who she was, what she stood for, and how the fight for justice is never truly satisfied. HBO has produced a powerful documentary to add to this already stunning year for docs.

Jess’ Rating: 

4.5

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Searching

Year: 2018
Directed byAneesh Chaganty
StarringJohn Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee, Michelle La.

WRITTEN BY LUCY BUGLASS

In this digital age, we’ve seen an emergence of films which puts social media and technology at the centre of their narratives. As an example, Unfriended and Friend Request utilise social as a backdrop for horror due to how easy it is to be anonymous online and post truly awful things about people, with dire consequences. With so many of the population frequently using social platforms, it’s unsurprising that filmmakers are choosing to use this as a way of resonating with the modern audience and offering a fresh take on filmmaking.

Searching, on the other hand, uses social media and modern communication to solve the disappearance of a teenage girl. The film focuses primarily on the girl’s father as he searches her laptop and phone for clues into where she could have gone. I can understand people’s apprehension after hearing this synopsis as it took risks and could’ve been terrible from start to finish. Thankfully for me, I loved every minute of it and it’s a strong contender for one of my top films of the year. It’s unique, it’s ambitious and it’s a fantastic piece of storytelling from start to finish. For those who love thrillers and moments that get you on the edge of your seat, this film is absolutely for you. I haven’t seen a thriller this compelling in such a long time.

The entire film is told through FaceTime conversations, webpages, text messages and other forms of online communication. Throughout the course of the film we never see anyone filmed outside of a computer screen, which really helped to set the scene for me. As an audience member I felt like I was physically looking through someone else’s computer, thus helping contribute to the search for missing teenager, Margot Kim (Michelle La). I loved the attention to detail in this film as you’re constantly searching for clues and looking at email subjects, desktop icons, etc to see if you can crack the case. So much effort went into putting all this together and creating the digital footprints of fictional characters, to the point where they feel so real.

In particular, the opening montage of the film is incredibly poignant and the way they told a story purely through messages, videos, etc is stunning. I was impressed with how well they managed to pull it off. I thought the pacing was excellent and the way it teases the audience by not showing us full messages or making us wait for an answer makes us feel even closer to the investigation. I wished I really had access to all the information so I could click on things myself. I also loved the use of hashtags and comments during the event as it feels like exactly how people would react to widespread news, both positively and negatively. Wherever there’s a serious incident, there’s always a few trolls lurking online to cause drama.

John Cho is excellent in his portrayal of recently widowed father David Kim. He experiences a whirlwind of emotion that is clear through both his video conversations and text messages. The relationship between David and Margot is strained and the script illustrates this perfectly, feeding the audience snippets of information until we’re able to put together the full picture of who they are and how they interact with each other. A few of the scenes made me well up as they were so emotionally charged and it’s hard not to feel the despair that he’s feeling. Equal praise must be given to the supporting actors; Debra Messing’s detective character is three dimensional, compelling and utterly invested in the case. Michelle La’s performance of Margot gives us an insight into the life of a teenage girl, where things aren’t always as they seem. The quality of acting throughout is superb and gripping.

Searching is unlike any modern thriller I’ve seen, and actually knows how to do social media and the online world right, without being gimmicky. It’s an unpredictable film that will grip you from the moment you sit down to watch until the final credits roll. Aneesh Chaganty knows how to write a thoroughly engaging and entertaining script, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

LUCY’S RATING:

5

The Spy Who Dumped Me

Year: 2018
Directed by: Susanna Fogel
Starring: Mika Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Justin Theroux, Sam Heughan

WRITTEN BY ELENA MORGAN

Audrey (Mila Kunis) is down after being dumped and her best friend Morgan (Kate McKinnon) is doing her best to cheer her up. That doesn’t go to plan when Audrey’s ex Drew (Justin Theroux) resurfaces, tells them that he’s a spy, that assassins are after him and that Audrey must complete his mission.

The Spy Who Dumped Me is an action-comedy hybrid but it never really finds the balance between those two things. It’s an uneven film with jokes that are more likely to cause a smile rather than a full-on belly laugh and the action is good but not amazing. The action sequences are generally well shot and exciting, with the opening sequence of Drew fighting off bad guys in Lithuania being a standout. A car chase through Vienna where Audrey surprises herself, Morgan and the audience, by dealing with the violence and threat better than she could’ve ever imagined, is a pretty fun action sequence too and a good character moment.

The plot itself is messy, with Audrey and Morgan travelling from one European country to another at breakneck speed – so much so, it’s hard to keep up with what country they are now in and what they are supposed to do there. The script could’ve been a bit tighter, you do notice the two-hour runtime, and the actual spy plot could’ve made more sense.

Where The Spy Who Dumped Me shines is during the quieter moments between Audrey and Morgan, or any time the two of them are struggling to deal with the spy madness together. They are two people who you believe are best friends, they have in-jokes, they know each other’s secrets and they stand up for one another. Kunis and McKinnon have great chemistry and Kunis shows off her wit when balancing out McKinnon’s exuberance.

The Spy Who Dumped Me never quite finds its rhythm. Its leads are fun, and their characters are almost better than the story they’re in. Unfortunately, the spy plot is never truly thrilling, and the humour is never hilarious so the film merely ends up being just…fine.

ELENA’S RATING:

3

 

Crazy Rich Asians

Year: 2018
Directed by: Jon M. Chu
Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Ken Jeong, Awkwafina

WRITTEN BY FIONA UNDERHILL

It seems like after years in a romantic desert, we are finally having our thirst quenched by a geyser of rom-coms which are hitting cinemas and streaming in 2018. Netflix have been doing a particularly good job in this arena, but we’ve also had Love, Simon breaking boundaries in its own way and now Crazy Rich Asians is here to again challenge perceptions of who we get to see as being romantic heart-throbs on screen. The commercial and critical success of these films is so important (yes, the pressure on them is unfair) if we want to see more rom-coms being made and released, as well as films with diverse casts telling the stories of those who rarely get to see themselves represented on screen. This film provides universal themes told through the specificity of a particular culture and it balances this extremely well.

The “rich” part of the title means that this is one of the most sumptuous looking movies of the year – the glamour of the locations, sets and costumes cannot be overstated. The cast is absolutely huge, but it is packed to the rafters by impossibly beautiful and talented people. Newcomer Henry Golding is already heading to the top of many people’s Bond wish-lists after they’ve seen this movie. He plays Nick Young, who is dating economics professor Rachel Chu (‘Fresh Off The Boat’s Constance Wu) in New York City. Rachel is a second-generation immigrant who has never been to Asia before, whereas Nick is from Singapore (via boarding schools in England, hence his crisp accent). He persuades Rachel to join him on a trip to Singapore for spring break, so he can be the best man at his best friend’s wedding. Rachel agrees, but is also aware that this means she’ll be meeting Nick’s family for the first time. As Rachel soon discovers that they are flying to their destination in first class, she begins to question Nick and his family; her suspicions starting to raise that they might, in fact, be super-rich.

Nick has many cousins, including Astrid (the impossibly beautiful Gemma Chan) who is going through some marital problems with her husband Michael (Pierre Png). However, the main family member who is Rachel’s concern is Nick’s mother Eleanor (the sublime Michelle Yeoh). Eleanor has many plans for Nick and they do not include an Asian-American economics professor. There follow many shenanigans including a chaotic stag party with Colin (Chris Pang) and his crew including Bernard (Jimmy O. Yang) and an equally terrifying hen party, where Rachel meets a girl who may know more than is ideal of Nick’s past. Rachel finds two allies in Singapore – her friend Peik Lin (‘Ocean’s 8’s Awkwafina) and Nick’s cousin Oliver (Nico Santos), who help her with a scene fundamental to all good rom-coms; the makeover.

There are two pivotal scenes in Crazy Rich Asians which centre around activities that are important to Asian culture, which have multi-layered metaphorical meanings that will be significant to those from that culture. They are dramatic scenes that can be enjoyed on one level by everyone but which will have deeper meaning to people from Asian communities who can finally feel a connection with something so specific on screen. The two activities are dumpling-making, which takes place at the home of the matriarch of the family, Ah Ma (Lisa Lu). The second scene occurs near the finale and takes place over a game of mahjong, which is not unlike chess in terms of representing the shifting power and status of the players. The acting of Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh in this scene is phenomenal, as the power shifts between them and each gain the upper-hand at different times.

There are many heart-breaking scenes in this film and it may be a cliché, but it’s true in this case, it will make you both laugh and cry. Gemma Chan’s Astrid is one source of the heartache – it is fantastic to see Chan breakout internationally after her success on British television. Constance Wu also gives such a vulnerable, tender performance, as Rachel is met by hostility which is subtle at first, but then becomes much more blatant from Eleanor. Rachel looks like Nick’s family, but is viewed as an American and therefore an outsider who doesn’t belong there. She is seen as being a distraction from what they want for Nick, which is to return to Singapore and take over the family business.

There is a climactic wedding scene which takes the levels of rich to whole new crazy heights. This is an escapist fantasy which relies heavily on wealth porn, but it’s a sumptuous visual feast that it’s nice to succumb to for two hours and dream of a life of jet-setting luxury. The performances, particularly of the women (especially Wu, Yeoh and Chan) elevate Crazy Rich Asians above the usual rom-com fare. The men are hot and the women are heart-breaking and it’s an extremely enjoyable time at the cinema. I’m so excited that romantic movies are staging a comeback because they are very much my jam. Long may it continue.

FIONA’S RATING:

5

The Escape

Year: 2018
Directed by: Dominic Savage
Cast: Dominic Cooper, Gemma Arterton, Frances Barber, Marthe Keller

Written by Sasha Hornby

“It’s just a phase.”

What happens when ennui gives way to something more annihilating? When the uninspiring daily routine crushes the sense of self? Writer-director Dominic Savage’s empathetic character study focuses on a young stay-at-home mum, Tara (Gemma Arterton), as she is consumed by a depression she’s made to feel guilty for having, to the point where escape is the only option.

To all appearances, Tara leads a fulfilling and desirable life. Her businessman husband, Mark (Dominic Cooper), lovingly provides for their family, allowing her to concentrate on raising their two primary-school-aged children and run the household. The family live in an amply sized house on an idyllic suburban estate. As Tara’s never-married mother (Francis Barber) resentfully points out, “You’ve got it made – two cars and a conservatory!” But the superficial abundance only serves to shame Tara for wanting more.

Gemma Arterton is magnificent in this painful portrait of a woman in search of a purpose of her own. To her husband, she is “babe”, the beautiful woman he married, who dutifully plays the role of homemaker while he proudly earns their livelihood. He likes a “quickie” on a morning, and for her to smile when he has a rare day off work. To her children, she is “mummy”, there to feed them, dress them, clean up their messes, wipe away their tears, taxi them to where they need to be, basically fulfil their every whim and want. Tara’s name goes completely unmentioned for the first hour of the film, a reflection of how she has lost herself in domesticity. Arterton gives a deeply emotional performance as the exhaustion and the desperation of Tara’s soporific existence is barely hidden by forced smiles and a wearily cheerful demeanour.

Dominic Cooper is equally impressive in the supporting role as Tara’s obtuse husband. Through the course of the film he goes through his own 5 stages of grief, as his perfect world crumbles around him. He’s baffled when she cries during sex. He obtrusively puts himself in Tara’s limited personal space in an attempt to get his “happy girl back”, not because he’s a bad person, but because he doesn’t know how else to act. He perceives her unhappiness as an indictment of his love for her, so suffocates her with it. His frustrations lead to angry outbursts (and one solemn, heart-breaking, tearful moment), which act as a catalyst to Tara’s drastic act of wish-fulfilment.

Laurie Rose’s camera is brutally intimate, clinging to Arterton’s face in claustrophobic lingering shots. The audience sees every break in the veneer with astonishing precision. The silent tears she weeps during sex, the wave of panic she feels facing another meaningless humdrum day, the abject disgust at herself for lashing out at her children. The colour palette of the first half of the film, set in London, is cool and grey; a stark juxtaposition to the warmth of the cinematography in Paris. The romantic city is filmed with a whimsical and wistful gaze, an uneasy what-could-have-been unfolding.

The events that follow Tara’s exodus will polarise opinions, but Savage’s view remains morally ambiguous. Never condemning Tara’s choice, but also not endorsing it, we are encouraged to merely understand it. The Escape is authentic, poignant, and intensely affecting.

Sasha’ Rating:

4

Miss Leslie’s Dolls (1973)

Year: 1973
Directed by: Joseph G. Prieto
Cast: Salvador Ugarte, Terri Juston, Marcelle Bichette, Kitty Lewis, Charles Pitts

Written by Tom Sheffield

It’s likely Miss Leslie’s Dolls doesn’t ring a bell for a lot of our readers, and in fact, this ‘grindhouse classic’ was thought to be lost until a few years ago when the original print was found. Network is re-releasing an HD restoration of this almost forgotten film next month that will be available on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD. Miss Leslie’s Dolls has been newly scanned from one of the few surviving prints in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The restoration carried out involved careful grain management, both automated and manual removal of film dirt and damage, and correction of major instability, warping and density fluctuations.

Three university students and their teacher find themselves stranded in the middle of the woods in the midst of a thunderstorm. Refusing to just sit and do nothing, the group seek shelter in a nearby house where they meet Miss Leslie – a lonely, middle-aged spinster who allows them to stay the night. It soon becomes apparent that Miss Leslie is a dangerous psychopath who is seeking to liberate his spirit from his ageing body and take possession of a young, healthy female body. Now there’s three of them under Miss Leslie’s roof for him to try to possess, he seizes his opportunity!

With a runtime of just 85 minutes, the film suffers from a surprisingly slow start, even though a major discovery is made fairly early on. The stranded group’s reaction to said discovery is somewhat unbelievable and definitely has no feeling of authenticity to it – it’s something that would make any sane person run a mile instantly, but instead, they’re just kind of little taken aback by it. It’s also a plot point that really should have got things moving a little faster, but unfortunately, it didn’t.

Once the proverbial hits the fan the film’s real horror elements come in to play. There are a lot of familiar ingredients to this horror that I’m sure many fans of the genre will really love. Because all the juicy stuff really only takes place in the third act it’s hard to delve deeper into the film without going into spoiler territory, and because there’s a genuine twist in this tale that I really liked, I will refrain from spoilers and instead encourage you to seek this film out when you can, if only for the third act alone.

Salvador Ugarte’s performance as Miss Leslie was the only act I bought in this film. His mannerisms, facial expressions and gestures were bone-chilling, even if the dubbed female voice was a little off-putting at times. Miss Leslie is rather unpredictable and Ugarte is excellent at keeping the audience guessing what he’ll do next. Terri Juston gives a convincing performance as the responsible teacher, Alma Frost, even if some of her character’s actions and dialogue are rather questionable. The rest of the cast are fine and play their part, the three students weren’t really given much to do outside of making little quips and also making questionable decisions.

I can only imagine the time and effort that went into the restoration of this film, but I was incredibly impressed by the colours and the quality of the film thanks to the hard work that went on behind the scenes. Having not seen the original, and the fact its pretty difficult to find much about this film online, I can’t really compare the two. Given its age and the fact the print would have been sat gathering dust for years and therefore likely damaged, Network’s effort is commendable and they’ve delivered an excellent restoration.

Miss Leslie’s Dolls is released on Blu-ray and DVD on September 3rd and VOD October 1st, and I would definitely recommend a viewing from you horror fans out there who haven’t seen it before. It clearly pays homage to horrors that came before it, most noticeably there’s a strong likeness to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, but I’m certain there’s plenty of likeness to other horrors in it that I won’t have picked up on. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s an enjoyable horror that deserves a watch, especially following the hard work that will have gone in to restoring it.

Tom’s Rating:

3-5

 

Action Point

Year: 2018
Directed by: Tim Kirkby
Cast: Johnny Knoxville, Susan Yeagley, Dana Schick, Chris Pontius

Written by Sam Comrie

As the summer blockbuster season begins it’s third act, we begin to enter the phase of late U.S releases. To fill the gaps before the final run of the year drops its high ticket adventures on us, Action Point is one of those movies falling into the cracks. Coming from TV and music video director Tim Kirby, in collaboration with Johnny Knoxville, comes a new excuse for Knoxville (assisted by fellow Jackass alumni Chris Pontius) to perform bone crunching stunts within a conventional slapstick narrative. Immediately from the one sheet, I got the feeling they were going for a throwback to the high output of National Lampoon movies from the late 70s onwards through the 80s.

Unfortunately, Action Point lacks any of the wit, charisma or talent behind some of the more successful National Lampoon ventures ala Animal House and Vacation (’83). I’m all for a slice of laid back slacker fun, however I found myself struggling to find a laugh amongst Action Point’s 85-minute runtime. A chuckle here and there maybe for Knoxville’s quirkiness, but never anything truly side splitting. Because of that lack of comedy, it really makes it apparent how thread bare the narrative is. Told in flashback orientated manner (with Knoxville Grandpa makeup included), D.C Carver (Knoxville) recaps his glory days at Action Point to his granddaughter.

The theme park is notorious in the local community for it’s various health risks and questionable management. Naturally, competitors want to demolish the park to acquire the land for further business ventures. In a bid to pay off the park’s mounting debt, Carver and his band of slackers set about promoting how outrageous the park is to drive up business. In an attempt to add emotional stakes, Carver’s daughter comes to visit for the summer, with news that will determine the dynamic with her father going forward.

As the story tries to use Carver’s daughter as the heart of the movie, it spirals into a pit of dull exchanges around the park, with the occasional stunt thrown in. I probably might have got more enjoyment out of this if the stunts (normally cringe inducing from Knoxville) had at least an ounce of the insanity featured in the Jackass franchise. It’s almost as if these are unused or scrapped stunts that had resurfaced, only to have a wafer thin plot to hold them in as opposed to a new Jackass venture.

Knoxville had stated to Vanity Fair that he had sustained more injuries on this production than any of his previous endeavours. While I applaud his boldness to put himself on the firing line when it comes to slapstick entertainment, this commitment doesn’t feel like it is reflected. It seems like Knoxville is playing it safe, which is a true shame.

If you’re looking for a movie with similar premise around raising money and stunts gone wrong, you’re better off revisiting cult favourite Hot Rod.

Sam’s Rating:

2

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

Year: 2018
Directed by: Susan Johnson
Cast: Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, Janel Parrish

Written by Abbie Eales

I used to hate rom-coms as a teenager. The trite categorisation of all human life into tribes; ‘the jock’, ‘the nerd’ etc. drove me mad. John Hughes fabulous 1985 hit The Breakfast Club was an incredible teen film and perfectly of it’s time, but it’s many,  many imitators sucked, with the same formula  becoming very tiresome over the last 30 years.  Girls only got the guy after they made themselves pretty and men with feelings were portrayed as weak and needy. Thankfully that tired, old, formula of ‘pretty white girl falls for pretty white boy, boy is unattainable, girl gets makeover’ is long dead and instead we have charming gems like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.

Now, yes, all the characters in Susan Johnson’s film ARE pretty. And yes, they do all live in beautiful houses and live lives where money appears to be no object, but we do at least have a slight move to a more nuanced and realistic view of the world and individuality.

Based on Jenny Han’s successful young adult romantic novel, Sofia Alvarez and Susan Johnson bring a wonderfully female-centric and fun view of the life of a teenage girl to the screen.

16 year old Lara-Jean Song Covey (a thoroughly relatable performance by Lana Condor) is a girl who has retreated into a world of fantasy, a world shaped by her love of romance novels. Sharing her house with her two sisters and her gynaecologist father, she’d rather be at home fantasising about a life should could have than be out living it. Her romantic fantasies get transferred to paper as she tries to exorcise her feelings for her various crushes by writing them intense love letters, which she keeps hidden in a box given to her by her late mother. Following her elder sister Margot’s (a somewhat miscast Janel Parrish- I don’t buy her as a teenager for one second) departure to College in Scotland the five intense letters find their way to the objects of Lara-Jean’s affection, including to Margot’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. However where in traditional rom-com land a convoluted plot about girls falling out, boys getting the girl and some kind of final dance happening, instead (without giving too much away) we are given a really sweet love story about complicated characters.

There are no ‘jocks’ or ‘nerds’ in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Sure, some characters play sport and some love fashion, but this is a slightly more rounded view of the world without ‘good’ or ‘bad’ people, just human beings making sometimes ill-thought-through decisions.

Lara-Jean’s Korean heritage is not something which defines her character. There are references to kombucha and Korean yoghurt drinks (good old Yakult) but it’s not ever painted as an issue. She just IS half-Korean.

Similarly letter-recipient Peter Kavinsky (the charming Noah Centineo) plays sports, but he’s not just a jock. He’s far more layered, which makes for a far more interesting story.

A third wheel appears in the love story: social media. Lara-Jean begins to replace one fantasy land with another as she starts to play out an alternate fake life online. The use of social media is well played throughout and manages not to feel clumsy and an integral part of the plot.

Despite the charm and likeability of Peter Kavinsky this is an assuredly female-centric story. We follow Lara-Jean’s trials and tribulations as she begins to work out who she is.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is everything you’d hope for in a teen rom-com in 2018. It’s fun, comforting and will give you a warm fuzzy feeling. It’s the teen film John Hughes would have made, had he been making films today.

Abbie’s Rating:

4

 

The Festival

Year: 2018
Directed by: Iain Morris
Cast: Joe Thomas, Hammed Animashaun, Claudia O’Doherty

Written by Cameron Frew

The Inbetweeners, the Channel 4 hit sitcom about a ragtag group of loveably crude schoolboys, very much captured the zeitgeist. So much so, it has become a rite of passage for each generation since it hit the small screen, much to parents’ dismay. The series spawned two movies, both majorly successful in their own right, earning reasonable reviews and decent box office takings. The man behind such cherished phrases like “bumder” and “bus wankers”, Iain Morris, has been fairly quiet the past few years though. He’s now reunited with former Inbetweener Joe Thomas and headlining the tail end of the summer film roster with The Festival, a humorous if detrimentally familiar little romp.

After Nick (Joe Thomas) breaks up with his girlfriend and has a sizeably embarrassing breakdown at his university graduation, his best friend Shane (Hammed Animashaun) drags him out of his rut to one of the biggest music festivals of the year. The love-sick blues are not aided by peppy, uber-friendly festival goer Amy (Claudia O’Docherty), nor is bumping into his uni ‘friends’ including his ex, or the extreme conditions at an event like this, which he does not consider fun.

Thomas, whose most recent commendable work was in the underrated White Gold (also a Morris product), loses his amusing charm here. He’s essentially playing a more selfish, uptight version of his more famous character, Simon. While initially he has some pretty funny moments, such as the opening sex scene which ends up ruining his gown (alongside ex-Inbetweener ex-girlfriend, Hannah Tointon), he quickly becomes an annoying presence, a narrative tool essential for moving the film forward but unessential for any form of fulfillment. Morris makes very predictable plays for his character, resulting in stale, contrived development. Project X wasn’t a perfect movie, but we believed the plight of our main ‘hero’ and his ascent into party infamy. Nick is a bore who has an epiphany – that’s not good writing. The script overall is lacking, nowhere near as keenly observed as Morris’ famed sitcom.

One of the huge, glaring flaws with The Festival, particularly as a fan, is it’s essentially the exact same film as The Inbetweeners Movie, but set against a British summer backdrop. Nick breaks up with his girlfriend, goes somewhere to get over her, ends up meeting her there, and decides that this’ll be his quest to get back together with her – just like Simon. But unlike its predecessor, The Festival doesn’t have three seasons of television to build up the audience’s relationship with its main character, so Nick feels like some sort of imposter, a copycat if you will, without all the quirks we expect.

He joins a cast which are stuffed with unlikeable characters who are fed the odd redeeming line or plot-point, but for the most part are caricatures of festival stereotypes, from the obnoxious outsider who gets with the girls (again, like The Inbetweeners Movie), to the stuck-up glampers, to the drugged-up idiots who pee on your head. It gets to the point where someone who is written as being an aggravating character ends up turning into the best thing about the film. O’Docherty’s Amy is like a wildfire, “exciting, but you wouldn’t want it near your house”, boisterous, enthusiastic and looking for pals. She is smartly given her own side plot, alongside Animashaun’s Shane (also a fantastic contribution, immediately likeable), where they go off getting to know each other, and run into some pretty strange sights involving goats. They say it’ll probably make a great anecdote one day, but they’ll add it to the 12 other things they’re carrying to their grave. Their misadventures are funny and freshly written; new hilariously wacky situations that lend the film weight to being more than an Inbetweeners follow up.

But aside from a few cracking cameos from Nick Frost and Noel Fielding, the film never soars to achieve the uproarious laughter it should. It often descends into music video-esque montages and overlong set pieces that get awkward fast. The cycle of Nick may feel unearned, but the closing sequence at least brings the trio together, and ties up any loose ends in the process. But, like a music festival you weren’t that bothered about going to in the first place, you’d be better off watching the highlights.

Watchable, but unforgivably derivative – was it not a bit early to have a remake of The Inbetweeners Movie?

Cameron’s Rating:

2