British films continue to bear the brunt of the stereotype. It’s either gangster flicks or costume dramas that the UK industry continues to dine off, albeit to unhealthily obese proportions. Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels legacy continues to inspire Nick Love to churn out his own brand of lairy tedium, while an American audience is as accustomed to a Merchant Ivory rehash as Lindsay Lohan is to a jail cell.
And yet 2011 has seen three flicks from the UK top the box office chart. The King's Speech enjoyed commercial and critical success, Potter Avada Kedavra'd the competition out of the water and impressionable youngsters flocked to The Inbetweeners in their droves.
But does micro-budget filmmaking serve as the best antidote from the banal? Andrea Arnold’s striking Fish Tank (2009) may have boasted the preeminent Michael Fassbender, but its young lead Katie Jarvis was cast on the basis of a row with her boyfriend at a train station. Channelling such a believable performance into a film augments its vitality, which Finola Geraghty’s Come on Eileen exudes.
Revolving around a single mother regressing back into alcoholism, it takes the idyllic English summertime formula and injects it with an empathetic crisis. The interactions between the eponymous boozer (Jackie Howe) and her son (Felix Malcolm Still) never veer on the implausible, and Still’s cinematic debut, in particular, shines through. Licensed to improvise and drawing on his own experiences, he is so natural as the forlorn 16-year-old that the film emerges as a docudrama. And although having an unknown cast may not be commercially-friendly, it trumps token A-listers acting out of their depth.
From drinking a cigarette ash-tinted can of lager to sleeping rough because she can’t remember the way home, are genuinely funny moments.
Juxtaposing the lightness of the sunny setting with the dark depths further enhances the plausibility. Blue Velvet’s opening of an oversaturated presentation of America’s flawless suburbia, only to reveal a dark underbelly, is a probable blueprint. Kudos to Geraghty for giving an English alternative its own original identity.
Familial meltdowns are interjected with quips that act as a hilarious burst of comedy, balancing the humour and seriousness throughout the 90 minute running time. Eileen’s sudden plight is sad, but her antics, from drinking a cigarette ash-tinted can of lager to sleeping rough because she can’t remember the way home, are genuinely funny moments.
Memorable cameos come in the guise of Julia Davis (Nighty Night)’s manipulative yet benign Irishwoman and Keith Allen’s overburdened ex-husband. In his sole scene the latter is tasked with wrestling with his conscious on such an erratic level yet he nevertheless energises the already frantic proceedings. Noel Fielding lends his own popular shtick sporadically.
Geraghty’s film serves up pivotal contrasts; sobriety and alcoholism, cushy cricket clubs and fervent festivals, promiscuity or monogamy. Rather than glorifying the disapproving alternatives available in life, such conflicts and choices are presented in their mundane or macabre edges impartially. Treading a fine line, the balance on the tight rope is nevertheless expert.
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