Ambitious, amusing but overloaded directorial debut from actor Craig Roberts
An ambitious authorial / directorial debut from the 24-year-old Welsh actor Craig Roberts, this teen comedy starts on a whimsical note only to darken considerably – and overload itself somewhat – as it goes.
Roberts gives a winningly low-key, deadpan turn as the titular Jim, a 17-year-old schoolboy with absolutely nothing to lose in the popularity stakes. He’s inspired to change his outlook and personal presentation by a new neighbour, the ice-cool, foulmouthed American Dean (Emile Hirsch); but when did a slick new friend who promises to transform a nerd into a ladykiller ever turn out to be a good thing in the movies?
The opening scenes have a sweet, mannered awkwardness that recalls a lot of top-notch kid-focused indies, including Gregory’s Girl, Son of Rambow, and Roberts’ own breakout as an actor, Richard Ayoade’s Submarine. As heavy as it is on alienated-adolescent clichés, this part of the film also boasts a good few laugh-out-loud lines and moments of poignancy.
The trouble starts about halfway in, when the friendship between Jim and Dean mutates from an innocent teen take on Fight Club to a murkier state of affairs, the portrayal of which seems to draw on everything from Donnie Darko to Bad Influence to The Talented Mr Ripley. It’s a little too much for the slender structure to support; the film gets bogged down in a level of attention-seeking ambiguity that it just doesn’t need, and the sparky energy of the first half is replaced by nightmare imagery and a tone of listless negativity. This out-and-out rejection of cutesiness is a bold stylistic move, but it risks switching audiences off completely.
It’s hardly uncommon for debut features to attempt too much, however; and Roberts shows more than enough skill in the film’s better sequences to make his future efforts well worth keeping an eye out for.
Selected release from Fri 25 Sep.