BFI COMEDY GENIUS: Sightseers (2012)

Directed by: Ben Wheatley

Starring: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Eileen Davies, Kenneth Hadley

Written by Tom Sheffield

“I’m not coming home. Yorkshire is lovely. Not like you said at all. They can smile and they do sell my pasta sauce.”

The second strand of Showroom Cinema’s BFI Comedy Genius season is Contemporary British Comedy – an exploration of quintessentially British wit, expect a bitter twist and a sprinkling of social realism delivered by the British stars of today (and tomorrow). Kicking off this strand was Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers, a film that took me by complete surprise when I first watched a couple of years ago, and one I was very interested in watching with an audience just to hear their reactions to the bat-shit craziness that ensues. So on Saturday afternoon, I was joined by fellow Yorkshire folk in the comfort of Screen 4 at Showroom, pint in hand (of course) for 85 minutes of ‘WHAT THE FUCK!?’

Tina (Lowe) and Chris (Oram) have been dating for 3 months and decide to do a little tour of Yorkshire with Chris’ caravan in tow. Chris is an aspiring writer and is hoping some time in the British countryside with his girlfriend will help him with ideas. The couple’s relationship appears like any other, and in truth, they come off like a match made in heaven, with similar personalities and they both appear to love every moment they’re together. Tina’s mother is much against her daughter going away with Chris, even going as far as telling Chris she doesn’t like him as he’s about to drive off with her daughter in the passenger seat.

During their first stop at the National Tramway Musuem, Chris’ blood begins to boil as he calls a man out for littering and he refuses to pick it up. The ordeal starts to completely ruin the day for Chris and as he and Tina are about to leave the museum he accidentally reverses his caravan over the man, leaving him with a huge gash spurting gash in his neck. His wife and son look on in horror and Chris tries to cover Tina’s eyes from the horror – but neither of them can take their eyes odd the dying man. After they leave the police station the pair continue their holiday. The event at that museum sparks a bloody and relentless killing spree, but whilst Chris tries to justify his murders – one being “he’s not a person, he’s a Daily Mail reader”  – but Tina’s erratic and unpredictable nature begins to make Chris question their relationship.

Lowe and Oram are fantastic as the loved-up serial killers and what makes this dark comedy so good is that you actually buy them as real people. Tina and Chris look and act (in public) like an average couple you might see wandering around the beautiful sights of Yorkshire. This film needed strong leads to make its audience believe this relationship was real because everything they do they think they’re doing for each other – and luckily it has them. The film also features some familiar British talent, including Eileen Davies, Tony Way, and Richard Lumsden.

Murder sprees aside, Wheatley beautifully captures the British countryside and some of the characters you’ll find wandering through it. We get a look round some of the museums, my favourite being the Pencil Museum which includes a scene of Tina trying to write a heartfelt letter with a pencil as big as her. There’s also some genuinely hilarious exchanges of dialogue between some of the characters, but they’re best heard in context,

Watching this film with an audience was just as interesting as I hoping it would be. Sometimes you don’t know whether you’re supposed to laugh or be shocked at some of the couple’s antics, but it’s reassuring when everyone else is belly laughing at scenes that made you question how dark your sense of humour is. The audible gasps and wincing from some of the audience also made managed to add bring a few more laughs to the screening.

A special mention must also go out to the make-up and visual effects department for some absolutely brilliant and grotesque work on Tina and Chris’ victims. There’s one in particular where someone’s face, uhm, meets a rock and the camera shyly hovers over the shoulders of the couple to give us a quick look at the aftermath. If blood makes you a little queasy, be sure to have a sick bag to hand if you plan to watch this (which you totally should).

The film’s runtime clocks out at around the right time, the killing does become a little much and you can’t help but find yourself questioning how this film will bow out. Thankfully, and without spoiling it, the film comes does close in a fitting manner and perhaps not how you imagined it would.

Those with a dark sense of humour ought to crack out the Yorkshire tea, put your feet up, and stick Sightseers on one night you need a good laugh.

For more information, and details of the various workshops and Q+A sessions ongoing throughout the comedy season, click here.

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BFI COMEDY GENIUS: Pineapple Express (2008)

Written by Thom Marsh

So, let me tell you a little about The Showroom; a simply delightful independent cinema in Sheffield, where you can get a large Vimto (that’s right, Vimto) and a large popcorn, and still have change from a tenner for the bus home. I mean, that alone is an experience in itself. Now, I must point out as a born and raised Sheffield lad I’ll always have a soft spot for our city’s independent venues, but the experience The Showroom provides is second to none. It may not have the largest screens in the world, and there are no cup holders for your Vimto, but it’s a real hub of culture, and its cosy theatres provide the most relaxed viewing experience you’ll ever have. It’s a venue I frequent regularly, for new releases, old classics and Q+A sessions – I caught a brilliant screening of Planet Of The Apes there just a couple of weeks ago as part of a philosophy season. I couldn’t think of any other cinema I’d rather find myself in for a season of ‘Comedy Genius’.

Which is exactly what I found myself doing on Tuesday evening as The Showroom kicked off the season with their first of four strands: “Stoner and Cult Comedy”. First up was a screening of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s cult hit, Pineapple Express, a film celebrating its 10th birthday this year. I’d love to call this film a classic, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. In an age where attitudes towards cannabis are relaxing, and the negative connotations often related to cannabis are slowly fading, this film really hasn’t aged well at all. In fact, whilst I’m at it, I just want to point out how much I hate the label “Stoner Comedy”. It immediately dictates what you’re going to see in the film; you’re gonna see some friends smoking cannabis, one or all of them is going to do or say something stupid and the “adventure” unravels from there. From Half Baked to Harold and Kumar Get the Munchies (which is set to close the stoner side of things at The Showroom on Saturday 10th November), I just find the entire genre relies far too heavily on negative stereotypes, and the worst thing is, it’s perpetrated by the cannabis smoking community itself.

James Franco said it best when he told Seth: “that’s why your films get nominated for Stoneys and mine get nominated for Oscars”. It’s true, although there are certainly outliers to this. Think Kevin Smith’s Clerks (and the sequel, for that matter). It may not be labelled as “stoner comedy” outright, but for me, is the epitome of what the sub-genre should aspire to be. These films should make us think deep psychological questions, like whether or not the guys working on the Death Star would have let personal politics come in to play when taking on the contract. What I mean to say is, we should expect more than lazy outdated stereotypes.

Whilst parts of this article may feel like an attack aimed at Seth Rogen’s work, I assure you it’s not. In fact, the 2011 film 50/50, starring Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is absolutely fantastic and shows cannabis use in a more positive light. All in all, I feel if I’d have been asked to write this ten years ago, I’d have written a gushing article about how funny and “with the times” it was – 5 stars, no doubt. However, as a fully matured adult (no one can prove otherwise), I’d have to give it a 2.5, maybe a 3. If I was really high watching it.

Nonetheless, it was a fantastic evening and a fitting celebration for a film which remains solid entertainment. I’ll be covering the rest of this strand of the comedy season, with Friday next up on Saturday 3rd November (yep, Friday on Saturday), followed by Dazed and Confused (Wednesday 7th November) and Harold and Kumar on Saturday 10th November.  

For more information, and details of the various workshops and Q+A sessions ongoing throughout the comedy season, click here.