Wednesday, August 29, 2012

'A Few Best Men' (2012) directed by Stephan Elliott, 28th August 2012

They stole my colour scheme!
The 'wedding comedy' is one of the most restrictive subgenres around.  You can reconfigure and twist it, but there are boundaries and jokes that you can't avoid.  A catastrophic stag do with consequences, a barmy family, a mounting sense of tension during the ceremony, a terrible best man's speech, tension between the groom and the father-of-the-bride.  'A Few Best Men' strolls down this well-trodden path bereft of any sense of originality or surprise. 

This is the latest film from Stephan Elliott, who has fallen long, long way from 'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' (1994).  We're told the story of British backpacker David (Xavier Samuel) who impulsively proposes to an Australian girl named Mia. The rest of the film chronicles David and his friend's visit to Australia for the wedding.  Oh, you wouldn't believe the scrapes these guys get into!  Actually, having said that, remember that film 'The Hangover'?  Well take the basic concept of that, and then dial everything down.  Dial it right down to the point where everything is bland and inoffensive, and any sense of danger has been completely sucked out.  What you're left with is this insipid rubbish.

Oh. What scrapes these lads get into.
The three "lads", Tom (Kris Marshall), Graham (Kevin Bishop) and Luke (Tim Draxl), are cut from familiar cloth.  Tom is the laidback, cool one, Graham is the highstrung, nerdy one and Luke is the morose, moody one.  This is the kind of role Kris Marshall could play in his sleep.  He plays his role as an extension of his (seemingly) career defining role as Nick in 'My Family'.  It seems cruel to say, but he's getting a bit old for this sort of thing.  Tom has the 'cool' looking floppy haircut, but this and the studenty outfits they put him in all looks a bit strange on a 39 year old.   Having said all that, he probably is the best thing in the film.  

That's faint praise, being the best thing in this film is like being the best piece of chewing gum stuck to the pavement.  On the opposite end of the likeable scale is our groom, as played by Xavier Samuel.  He's an actor who looks like he's been designed by committee, a man who woodenly lurches from one scene to the next, annoying everyone as he goes.  From the moment we meet him we instinctively dislike him, and this dislike only grows as the events of the film unwind.  In this instance, it's easy to blame the actor entirely for this dislike, as the character of 'David' has a lot of sympathetic qualities.  He's an orphan searching for a replacement for his lost family, searching for it in his in-laws and in his friends.  The character is genuinely in love, and is totally convinced that this wedding is the right thing to do.  This combination of certainty and tragedy in the past isn't exactly original, but you have to really screw up to get an audience to hate the earnest orphan type.  But Xavier Samuel makes us hate him with gusto!

Predictability isn't something to avoid at all costs in comedy.  There can be a great deal of pleasure in watching someone unknowingly approaching the banana peel, anticipating the inevitable tumble.  Here, and especially in the shadow of 'Bridesmaids' and 'The Hangover', the anticipation seems hollow.  Everything is too obviously telegraphed and by the time the punchline has crawled past us an hour later we're  bored.  There is no pleasure in waiting for the gag here, when we're introduced to the father-in-law's prize ram in the first half a strange sense of nihilism sets in.  Your expectations are lowered to the point where the best possible outcome is that the film gets it over with quickly.  There are a few actual honest-to-god funny moments in this film, but they're laboriously set up and few and far between.  When your highlights are characters walking into contrived situations, and someone saying "it's not what it looks like", you might want think about writing some actual jokes into your film.  

For a 'The Hangover' ripoff to work well you need a genuine sense of danger.  That film had a tiger, a kidnapped baby, homicidal gangsters, a stolen police car and a drunken marriage.  If nothing else, the stakes were high.  In 'The Hangover' you feel that there actually could be consequences for these actions.   In 'A Few Best Men', we have a very similar situation, though entirely neutered.  These characters could just theoretically ignore things for a few hours, and enjoy the wedding.  

One of the hallmarks of the wedding subgenre is the tension leading up to the ceremony.  Traditionally in these sorts of films the emotional highpoint is the vows and the kiss with the bride.  Here the actual ceremony happens fairly early on, and while I guess any sliver of originality is something to cling onto, it has the effect of draining all the anticipation from proceedings.  If our happy couple are actually married early on, then what is the worst that could happen?

Compounding this is a weird decision to make Rebel Wilson's 'Daphne' a fake lesbian.  She's introduced to us as gay, but soon after reassures us that she's only pretending to be a lesbian to annoy her father.  The pretence is entirely redundant (why not just make her actually gay?), and leads to some quasi gay-bashing jokes that feel especially strange coming from the director of 'Priscilla'.  The father's homophobic comments feel queasily close to punchlines in their own right, especially when the film gets laughs from his referring to his daughter as 'he'.

It's always depressing to film bereft of any ambition or passion.  There's a palpable sense of boredom from everyone here, clearly a film like this is no-one's passion project.   Please don't go and see this film, it'll only encourage producers to make more of them.  This is a depressingly joyless and cynically calculated piece of crap.

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