It was just after four when I got out the cinema, why was it NIGHT-TIME?
Anyhow, multiplexes are a bit like hell, the version that’s a giant building with a thousand rooms and a thousand tortures in each room, and my local was understaffed so that although I was only slightly late, by the time I’d reached the front of the queue the flick had started, which put me in a bad mood.
Why was I seeing this thing?Because I’d blogged about it, and because Ben Halligan recommended it (maybe he just likes public school movies, though?) and mainly because it got universally lousy reviews and I’ve been working on the theory that whenever that happens there’s something interesting going on. I decided on this after quite enjoying GOYA’S GHOSTS, which got a royal kicking from the broadsheet hacks.
Ealing Studios, if they want to live up to their glorious name, have got to stop remaking Oscar Wilde plays and old British comedies: that’s not what Ealing did. They may have had a conservative side, but at least they were original.
Having said that, the new ST TRINIAN’S is nothing to be ashamed of and certainly doesn’t merit the savagery the press has meted out. There are a few good laughs and lots of loud smiles, and an attempt is made to cram every kind of joke into it, from whoopee cushions to sly demolitions of every film in co-star Colin Firth’s CV. Unlike the earlier films, this one actually takes a bit of time to characterise the obstreperous kids. Like the earlier films, the new girl can’t quite decide if she wants to appeal to her peers or to the Dirty Mac Brigade. There’s some uncomfortable stuff early on as a newcomer is subjected to hazing and humiliation (being broadcast nude on the Internet) and the film looks like turning into sado-erotic faux-child porn. Then an anti-bullying message is produced from somewhere and we’re supposed to forget what we’ve seen.
As the hapless newbie, Talulah Riley shows some comic flair, particularly in a sloping walk alongside her father’s car as she tries to wheedle out of being sentenced to this “Hogwarts for Pikeys“. This almost stands comparison with Joyce Grenfell’s physical comedy work in the original BELLES OF. Gemma Arterton is a rather terrifying sex-bomb as the head girl. Comedian Russell Brand is fairly good as Flash Harry, but doesn’t really get much to do. But really, Rupert Everett is the whole show.
Like Alastair Sim in the first film, he plays dual roles, as headmistress Miss Fritton (try saying that three times quickly) and her no-good brother. Both roles are stylishly rendered cartoons, though neither has enough screen time to hold the fraying strands of the story together (the old ST TRINS sequels are likewise all over the shop, narrative-wise). While the rest of the film is scattershot and sometimes funny, Everett nails his every moment with grace and comic invention. The script seems to improve when he’s around, which suggests that either he’s shoring it up with ad-libs or he’s doing the even harder job of turning weak-ish material into gold by sheer force of magnetism and comedy chops. The film is actually worth seeing for him — there, I’ve said it! The moment where he swings through frame on a rope, in slow-motion, grinning at the camera, shows just the kind of CHEEK I’m meaning to blog about sometime.
It’s a shame the makers couldn’t sustain the quality throughout, or decide whether they wanted to be nasty and Ortonesque, mildly anarchic and silly, or preach an alternative educational lifestyle choice. And guys, you CAN’T do all three. But for the benefit of critics who have said things like “It is as funny as the worried frown on the face of an oncologist,” here is a short list of things to admire in this film (Everett is too obviously good to need including).
1) The girls. There are a hell of a lot of them, and they can all act. Some of the short ones are funny just standing there with their unformed faces.
2) The in-jokes. Markedly better than many of the out-jokes, admittedly. The reference to ANOTHER COUNTRY goes so far over the heads of the tweeny audience that they can’t even see the vapour trail behind it.
3) Russell Brand. This isn’t the quite vehicle he needs, but enough of his demented charisma pops out to merit him being given another chance.
Footnote: And YES, it IS appalling that The Film Council is backing this muck and not supporting Terence Davies. They should be making quality cinema art AND commercial nonsense — preferably GOOD commercial nonsense — but this one film doesn’t deserve to be the whipping boy for the TFC’s numerous failings.
Footfootnote: actually, Terence Davies could have directed the hell out of this movie.