Review: YOU INSTEAD - Despite Its Posturing, As Conventional As It Comes

Everything about You Instead feels genuine apart from the characters and the plot. It is a romantic comedy filmed at 2010€™s T in the Park Festival in Scotland, with real bands and real festival-goers buzzing around the periphery of the plot. This is a rather good idea for a movie, as it gives a rich and fascinating backdrop to the story. It€™s made on what is obviously a very small budget; presumably it had to be shot fast and around the time schedule of the festival, meaning that they€™d have to take, for a start, whatever weather they were hit with. Unfortunately, the story writer Thomas Leveritt (a young, award-winning novelist) and director David Mackenzie (Young Adam, Hallam Foe) have saddled this €˜realist€™ backdrop with about as dull and conventional a romantic-comedy plot as it€™s possible to conceive. Given that the main artistic benefit of working on a tiny budget is the creative control you have over your project, why graft a tedious, unoriginal love story on to this setting? The plot concerns two performers, each from a different band and genital grouping. The boy is Adam, played by Luke Treadaway (one of the identical twins from Brothers of the Head, recently in Attack the Block); the girl is Morello, played by Natalia Tena (Tonks from the latter Harry Potter movies). Both are attractive, likeable and talented actors. They almost immediately hate each other, but a friendly security guard €“ I forget his name but let€™s call him Deus Ex Machina €“ handcuffs them together. No logical reason for this is attempted; the movie thinks it€™ll be cute and quirky for the guy just to do it on a whim. I€™m starting to realise how easy it must be to write €˜quirky€™ scripts. They are handcuffed together for pretty much the whole movie, during which time... well, if you can€™t see where this is going I€™m presuming you haven€™t seen a movie before, in which case this isn€™t the best place to start. The handcuffed-together movie might have had its most famous case with The Defiant Ones with Ossie Davis and Burt Lancaster, although its use as a romantic device probably dates back to Hitchcock€™s The 39 Steps. Any misfits-in-love rom-com has to find a way to shackle two opposing characters together (Bringing Up Baby, for instance) so this simply makes the device literal, and, thus, finds a scriptwriting shortcut. Since the resolution of the plot is a foregone conclusion, all the movie can rely on is its humour and music, and while they make the movie just about bearable they cannot be said to make it good. Each of the handcuffed pair already has a partner, allowing for a missed opportunity with the four-in-the-bed scene. I€™m not sure if it€™s out of perversity or boredom that I was hoping this would lead to a foursome; Mackenzie often shoots memorable sex scenes in his movies. He probably thought it wouldn€™t be realistic enough. All through the movie, even when it was quite funny, I was acutely aware of the contrivance; it€™s a story that is by definition not suited to a realist context. If it creates the realistic feel of a music festival, it only does it in the background while the fore is taken up with convention and cliché. Audiences who go to rom-coms aren€™t disappointed that they€™re not realistic; they know that going in, and that€™s part of the fun (putting aside how cynical and joyless most modern rom-coms are). When the leopard walks into the prison in Bringing Up Baby nobody complains about how unlikely it is, but they might have if it had been filmed in a real jail with real prisoners. Mackenzie€™s career has been interesting if not, of late, encouraging. Young Adam and Hallam Foe were unusual, personal films of the type rarely shot in Scotland, and are still well worth checking out. This year he also has Perfect Sense being released, which I saw at the Edinburgh Festival and which has a great deal of self-importance, and zero self-awareness. This movie isn€™t as bad as Perfect Sense, and is therefore not as memorable. I realise I am being slightly harsh on the film, given it does have laughs and a few sweet scenes. There€™s a nice moment where Morello and Adam play a guitar together: he strumming, she picking. There is the expected humour one would associate with a guy and girl handcuffed together, given their differences in toilet habits, etc. A young actor called Mathew Baynton has a silly role as a stoner but he has a likeable presence. Gavin Mitchell (familiar to Scottish audiences as Boaby from TV's Still Game) has a borderline funny role as Adam€™s manager, but he€™s given an inexplicable American accent to attempt. That€™s the problem with the whole project: it€™s a Scottish movie with an American accent. You Instead is in UK cinemas from Friday.
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I've been a film geek since childhood, and am yet to find a cure. Not an auteurist, but my favourite directors include Robert Altman, Ernst Lubitsch, Welles, Hitch and Kurosawa. I also love Powell & Pressburger movies, anything with Fred Astaire, Cary Grant or Katherine Hepburn, the space-ballet of 2001, Ealing comedies, subversive genre cinema and that bit in The Producers with the fountain.