Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Written by: Larry McMurty and Diana Ossana Directed by: Ang Lee

Brokeback_mountainThere are various reasons I take films off the the shelf at the video store or library. Sometimes I systematically try to watch certain works. Other times I go for the oddball covers. In the case of finally seeing Brokeback Mountain, I suppose I was chasing a memory. 2006 was the first year in which I was broadly aware of what films were nominated for the Oscars, even though I was too young to have seen any of them. While my interest was admittedly peaked because a movie about one of my favourite singers (Johnny Cash/Walk the Line) was part of the conversation, I nonetheless retained memories of the names of actors and movies that were not necessarily atop the tabloid world: actors including Brokeback Stars Heath Ledger, Jake Gylenhaal, Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway,

So what did I think of Brokeback Mountain? I enjoyed it, though perhaps I felt it did not live up to the mystical stature it held as the first “great” (modern) movie to have slipped into my consciousness. In drama classes, a common piece of advice is “show not tell.” Clearly, I think this is good advice, as I regularly find myself using “subtlety” as a near synonym for quality when discussing film. When storytellers, “show and not tell,” they make more powerful statements about the issues they are dealing with, than if they name the issue head on: they allow the issue to emerge in a raw, more natural form.

Brokeback Mountain, literally speaking, is a subtle film. Its protagonist, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) doesn’t say much, and his silence certainly plays a role in shaping the film’s trajectory. Upon deeper examination, however, Brokeback Mountain is not a subtle work. It’s quite plainly “the gay cowboy” story, even if the word “gay” is never used in the script. Brokeback Mountain straddles the line between “mainstream” and “alternative”: it is realist and lacks (with one brief, but significant exception) action, yet at the same time is dramatic and unambiguous in its messaging.

An obvious way to think about Brokeback Mountain is as a piece of gay (or queer) cinema, a lens which for me evokes, the memory of recent releases Call Me By Your Name and Moonlight. Moonlight is a story that takes place in this modern era, one in which “gay rights” enjoy broad support (even as homophobia can clearly still take a violent toll on society). Call Me By Your Name is slightly pre-modern as far as the gay-rights conversations goes, however, since it is set in a small world populated by liberal intellectuals the significance of this time difference is somewhat negated. Brokeback Mountain thus, in a way, feels different than those two works. It opens in rural America in the 60s: a world which we can assume is predominantly homophobic. What is interesting about the film,, again, that “gayness” is rarely explicitly mentioned. As such, the degree to which it influences the plot’s dramatic tension is left at least somewhat ambiguous. Yes, we can assume that a gay couple probably couldn’t be out and proud in the world of Brokeback Mountain, but does this homophobia go so far as to prevent its characters from being out in the small world of their family and social groups? This second question is left unanswered. We never get to know whether the film’s protagonists are entirely victims of homophobia, or whether it is their internal fears and self-hate that prevent them from finding happiness.

I suppose it can be said that this ambiguity is the feature that gives Brokeback Mountain its reputation. It’s this feature that allows the film to run on, even where dramatic events are few and far between. Ennis may not have enemies, but he does have his own personality to conquer: a personality that silences him no matter who the listener is.

The film is also a joy aesthetically. It’s score is simple, but interesting. It consists of acoustic guitar riffs: plucked strings breaking out with the Brokeback mountain sunrise over the fresh morning dew. To anyone who ever over-generalizes and says they hate country music, I dare them to see this movie, and take in country as it emerges from its natural habitat.

Unfortunately it is not 2006 and I cannot appreciate how Brokeback Mountain would have come across when it first came out. Perhaps at the times its politics were more revolutionary, making its theme feel richer or at least more original than it does today. This vague gripe aside, I thoroughly appreciated the modern classic. Just remember to put on the subtitles: That Heath Ledger sure can mumble.

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I Feel Pretty (2018)

 

I_Feel_Pretty.pngI Feel Pretty, a recent release starring Amy Schumer, has not exactly been a success: to use Rotten Tomatoes’ metric, audiences and critics alike have it in the low 30s. Going into the movie I hadn’t read any reviews and would not have guessed exactly where it fell short: I figured it would be a tad too reliant on crass jokes.

 

The problem I found with the film, however, was far blander. It wasn’t bad per se: it was just incredibly generic. The film tells the story of Renee Bennett (Schumer). She works for cosmetics company Lily LeClaire in a New York basement, but takes an interest in being their secretary, a defacto modelling job in a luxurious office. Bennett, however, lacks the confidence to apply for the position until she suffers a head injury which magically causes her to see herself as beautiful.

 

This is not a bad premise. It’s also not entirely original. The film’s premise is a distant cousin of the Freaky Friday concept, and closer still to the central idea of Shallow Hal. Of course, original ideas are hard to come by, so often what makes a film great is not the originality of its bare-bones plot, but how it puts its pieces together.

 

Unfortunately, creative plot construction is not I Feel Pretty’s forte either. Most of its characters are not well developed: they simply fill niches: Bennett’s unhip friends, her nice-guy love interest, her bad-boy love interest, etc. A partial exception to this rule is her quasi-boss Avery Leclaire (Michelle Williams). Leclaire is interesting to watch only in that she’s a deeper character than she initially seems to be. This does not mean she’s even nearly-interesting enough to single-handedly save the movie

 

None of this, however, gets at what really feels like the shortcoming of I Feel Pretty. Amy Schumer broke out on the big screen with 2015’s Trainwreck. She wrote and starred in the film, playing a character named Amy. Trainwreck, like other works that star their writers, was engaging because of its vaguely fourth-wall-breaking qualities. The film features comedic appearances from John Cena and Lebron James (playing himself, a sizeable role), and an excellent dark-comedic opening. In essence, Trainwreck is not simply a story, it’s a piece of filmmaking. Trainwreck is a comedic exploration of the mind of its creator, giving it a zany liveliness that generic Hollywood films lack.  Another way to put it is that Trainwreck is not “a movie,” its an “Amy Schumer movie.”

 

Of course, Schumer did not write or direct I Feel Pretty, nor has she written any other feature film since Trainwreck. Nonetheless, the character of the film left me feeling short-changed. I went to see an Amy Schumer movie. What I saw was a romantic comedy that included Amy Schumer in its cast.

 

This is a shame. Regardless of whether she literally wrote it, I Feel Pretty could have been an “Amy Schumer movie”. As someone whose career has left her subject to body shaming, and who has struck back in part by doing modelling, Schumer had a fourth-wall-breaking relationship with the premise of the film. The script could have been rife with rye, perhaps even self-aware lines. Instead, however, Schumer plays a character who is fully immersed within the film’s universe. Granted, this may be the inevitable result of the film’s premise (her psychology being transformed by the head injury), but either way, the lack of Amy in Renee undermined the film’s comedic potential. It’s worth re-mentioning the lack of depth of Schumer’s cast mates here. Perhaps the film could have worked, despite Renee’s mental transformation, if its plot weren’t so linear. We could have been exposed to side plots and characters. Instead, we’re permanently stuck with Renee Bennett, who runs her predictable course.

 

I don’t like to write negative reviews. It just doesn’t seem like a nice thing to do. In this case, however, we’re talking about a mainstream film, and I trust that amongst all the negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes mine probably does not stand out as the coldest.

More importantly, however, this is a case where criticism can be constructive. I Feel Pretty felt uninspired. And that’s a shame, because I have no reason to think that we’ve simply run out of ideas for writing gripping, inspired romantic comedies.

Thoroughbreds (2017)

Written and Directed by: Corey Finley

 

Thoroughbreds_(2017_film) Whether or not you watched the trailer going into Thoroughbreds, there is probably something you will pick up quickly: this is a film about dichotomies. The film stars two young-women actors, playing even younger (16/17 year old) characters. One, Amanda (Olivia Cooke), is immediately presented as emotionally-lacking. The character throws around some potential diagnostic labels, showing that this is the lens through which her character is viewed, but dismisses them all and never mentions them again (making it clear we should not view her as a caricature of any one condition). All we are supposed to know about her is that she does not have feelings, at least not, according to her, sadness and joy. Her counterpart is Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) who is timid, initially unassertive and working as an SAT tutor for Amanda. Thus we have our initial dichotomy cold-and-dark vs empathetic-and-sensitive.

 

Savvy viewers, will quickly begin to question the dichotomy between the girls. In the scene immediately following Amanda’s explanation of her condition, she can be seen playing online poker. Despite her criminal past, Amanda appears to be well off with a supportive mother (Lily, it should be noted is blatantly well off, living in a mansion and attending private school). Therefore, it would seem Amanda is gambling for fun, suggesting she does experience something resembling joy. Moreover, while I am clearly no psychologist, I was instantly troubled by the problem of what it meant for a person to feel no joy. I have heard the phrase “pleasure principle” thrown around to describe human behaviour and it sounds right to me: we seek that which makes us happy: why, therefore, would a person do anything if they don’t feel happiness?

 

While Thoroughbnreds never answers the question of whether or not Amanda does feel joy and whether or not she is a reliable narrator of her own experiences, the film does ultimately complicate its initial dichotomy. Lily is quickly revealed to have troubles of her own and is willing to act as recklessly as Amanda does. Without saying too much, we go from seeing Amanda as free of feeling and Lilly as full of feeling to seeing Amanda as bold in the face of her feelings (or lack their of) and Lily as a prisoner of her feelings.

Another (false) dichotomy lies in the character’s relationship to neuronormativity. While Amanda may be undiagnosed, we know she has been labelled as worthy of diagnosis. Lily has not been subject to any such process. Therefore we are initially led (and many viewers will no doubt fall into this trap even as the film concludes) to see Lily and Amanda in fundamentally different lights: one is sick, one is merely troubled. This distinction between sick and troubled, however, is completely arbitrary and can be described as the result of different lucky breaks playing out in the two girls’ lives.

 

Class is yet another important dichotomy in Thoroughbreds. Lily’s mansion-dwelling does not simply provide the film with charming scenery, it also serves as a metaphor: a place in which the girls’ web of secrets can hide amidst the many artifacts. Furthermore, by protecting the girls with socioeconomic privilege, the film is able to avoid other complications from intervening with their stories, and thus cut to what it wants to cover: their psychologies. The class dynamics of Thoroughbreds, however, is played out most through the character of Tim (Anton Yelchin). While Tim is introduced in a negative light, having served prison time for statutory rape and currently making money by selling drugs to kids, he is generally portrayed as timid, pathetic and perhaps even pacifistic in comparison to the film’s protagonists. While it is unclear what his previous socioeconomic status was, for much of the film he works as a dishwasher. His character thus shows the different consequences criminal behaviour can have for people in distinct socioeconomic circumstances.

 

Innocence and horror have long walked hand in hand. Surely many readers can picture the trope of a child eerily asking you to “come and play.” This too is a dichotomy Thoroughbreds embraces and manipulates. Rather than having them be haunted house props or antagonists, this film puts unsettling children at its centre. We are made to be terrified by them, but precisely because we feel for them and do not want them to be terrifying. Unless you don’t like blood, or suspense (there’s far more of that than blood), Thoroughbreds is a must see

The Shape of Water (2017)

Directed by: Guillermo del Toro. Written by: del Toro and Vanessa Taylor

The_Shape_of_Water_(film)Guillermo del Toro is known for his fascination with monsters. This fascination is not a simple aesthetic desire to create novel looking beings: rather they symbolize “the other” as in those we do not see as part of respectable, human society. He cites, for example, Tod Browning’s 1932 film Freaks, as an influence of his: a film that tells the stories of “circus freaks” from a sympathetic perspective.

This theme is readily apparent in The Shape of Water a story of Eliza Esposito, a mute janitor in the 50s who develops a relationship with a humanesque marine creature (Doug Jones) who is held captive at her workplace. Eliza (Sally Hawkins), explains her empathy for the creature by citing her own marginalized status. Meanwhile, the film’s antagonist, Strickland (Michael Shannon) is a US government agent who speaks in thinly veiled racist and sexist dogwhistles.

Thematically, therefore, The Shape of Water is a bit plain-stated. The film’s aesthetic, however, goes a long way towards making it a memorable work. The film is decidedly green. Eliza’s punches in a green time card (with help from her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer), to go into her green dungeon of a building, where she cleans green-tiled bathrooms with bubble-like wells of green soap. While the exact meaning of the color is somewhat ambiguous, visually it serves to make Eliza’s life look much like the creature’s: she too is submerged in murky, green depth. It should be noted here, that there is nuance to this connection. Showing Eliza in the shadowy green depths of her work helps create the impression she is drowning (while by contrast the creature of course needs to be in water).

Del Toro could have opted for his green aesthetic to be a mere mood setter, something many viewers might simply process unconsciously. Instead, however, he works the word “green” into his scripts. Giles, Eliza’s friend and neighbour, lovingly keeps neon green pies in his fridge, even as he doesn’t enjoy them. Strickland, by contrast, takes great interest in a turquoise Cadillac, but before buying it awkwardly seeks assurance from the car salesman that it is not green.

It is thus through color, that Del Toro truly enriches his story of otherness. Giles a non-disabled white man, at times stands in contrast to the marginalized and principled Eliza, yet his compassion for the green pie (an other of sorts), is symbolic of his goodness. Strickland, a less redeemable white man (he’s a bit of a caricature in fact, though that’s not really a flaw in the movie, as Strickland’s characterization is an essential part of the film’s 50s aesthetic), goes out of his way to make sure the borderline green thing he loves is not green: his behaviour is reminiscent of “straight” men going out of their way to point out that they are not gay.

While green is the film’s primary color, red is it’s secondary shade. Red tends to appear in the film in the form of blood. One interpretation of the appearance of blood is that it is an invocation of Shylock’s “doesn’t a Jew bleed” speech. Be they green-haters or lovers, Russians or Americans, humans or non-humans all of the film’s characters bleed red.

The Shape of Water is simultaneously a political, and apolitical film. Through depicting intersecting racism, sexism, homophobia and ableism, Del Toro made a movie that he saw as a response to the rise of (presumably) the alt-right. At the same time, the film, through its logic of everyone bleeds, tries to transcend political ideology in favour of humanism (perhaps anthropomorph-ism is a better word in the context of this film). While there is a cold war subplot to the film, and it is an American agent that comes across as the film’s villain, for the most part the Soviet-American conflict simply contributes to the film’s period commitment. The film’s “good” Soviet, like the film’s “good” Americans, stands in contrast with his mission-focused superiors, as opposed to with “American ideals,” and vice versa.

In short, The Shape of Water is a film of various “others” uniting. Chief amongst the others is of course the creature. While largely anthropomorphic in its design, and compassionate towards humans in its behaviour, the character was carefully designed so as to not make it 100% obvious that he can be embraced by humans. One small example of this is his stunning eyes, which though charming, are indeed more fish than human like.

There is one scene near the end of the movie where the creature’s loveableness is indeed put into question. While the script largely brushes over this incident, it adds important nuance to the film. Loving the other is easy when it simply means resisting the textbook bigotry of figures like Strickland. It’s more of a challenge when there are times where the other does truly seem like an other.

There is one final thing I should point out. The Shape of Water shares some notable similarities with a Dutch student film called The Space Between Us, To be honest, what caught my attention most when I watched the short film was not its similarities with The Shape of Water, but that despite being a student film it’s graphics were on par with Del Toro’s big budget effort. There are notable similarities between the films such as the design of the monster (fish eyes include), the context in which the janitor finds it, and muteness (albeit, the protagonist in the short film is metaphorically mute as a gas-mask wearing working class woman in a world of authoritative soldiers and scientists). I am not a strong believer in intellectual property and believe in the retelling of stories. I am also hesitant to jump to conclusions, given that when asked to comment on this issue, Del Toro notes he had been developing this idea along with novelist Daniel Kraus since 2011 (The Space Between Us was released in 2015). That said, it would be a shame for The Space Between Us to go under-appreciated due to its similarities to the newer film, and moreover, I see no problem in using a bound-for-success film to prop up the viewership of a less visible effort (both are good works).

The controversy aside, The Shape of Water is a simple, plain-stated story, but one that also provides a lot of room for dialogue and analysis. Whether you like seeing dark science-fiction, or simply find fish-eyed creatures, whose vulnerability is expressed through their gill-based breathing, adorable, you should enjoy The Shape of Water.

Downsizing (2017)

Directed by: Alexander Payne. Written by: Payne and Jim Taylor

DownsizingIn a year of films misrepresented or sold short by their trailer’s (Colossal, Beatriz at Dinner, Lady Bird, etc.) Downsizing, takes the cake. For reference this was the trailer I saw repeatedly in theatres. While it gives hints of the film’s beauty, it largely makes the film comes across as a fairly mundane romantic-comedy with a not all-that unusual sci-fi twist. For that matter, unless my memory is failing me, parts of this trailer didn’t even seem to be in the film (Matt Damon’s character is, importantly, an occupational therapist, not a generic cubicle worker).

Seen as a full film, Downsizing perfectly combines visual ambition with an emotional melange. The film is the story of Paul Safranek (Damon), a man dissatisfied with his life and financial situation, who along with his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decides to “downsize”: the process of shrinking one’s body, generally with the intention of living in a miniaturized community. One of the film’s main underlying tensions quickly becomes apparent. Downsizing is a process invented to address the problem of overpopulation (or over consumption, depending on how one likes to look at it), an issue that is not lost on Paul. Through other characters, however, it is suggested that environmental concerns are not the primary driver behind the development of downsizing. Rather, downsizers are motivated by the chance to convert their modest incomes into wealth, as resources become a lot cheaper when bought at the sizes necessary to serve a downsized person.

Downsizing thus is an escape in two senses of the word. It is a necessary and potentially useful escape from the risk of climate change, and it is a distraction-escape: a way for the characters to forget the troubles of the world, and kick back in their cheap mansions. Some of the film’s most powerful moments come as these two meanings are blurred. There is one scene near the end of the film where Paul excitedly says that ten years ago he never could have believed he would have been discussing the end of the world with a famous scientist while on a luxurious river cruise. In this scene Paul is simultaneously both kinds of escapists, exposing an interesting, but familiar cognitive dissonance in his personality. No doubt many of us embody this contradiction as we consider the perils of climate change; we are motivated to want to find both an actual escape (a green society) and a mental escape (pleasurable distractions).

Downsizing has not exactly charmed critics. It currently has a 51% critics approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and the fan rating is far worse. The critical “consensus” seems to be that while the film is driven by an ambitious idea, it does not have a fully developed story. This criticism is technically accurate. It would also be accurate to question how Paul’s character is written. There are two moments in the film where he becomes decisively angry, allowing him to unflinchingly cut other characters from his life. This behaviour is not commented on by other characters, seems inconsistent with Paul’s otherwise empathetic and accommodating personality, and (oh so) conveniently advances the script, so I can understand why some critics may perceive it as sloppy writing. Nonetheless, Downsizing is an example of the whole being better than the sum of the parts. Paul manages to go on a journey and transform as a person over the course of the film. This means that even as Downsizing lacks a full-fledged plot arc, what it has instead is emotionally resonant enough that it is quite possible you wont notice the difference (I certainly didn’t). The intrigue of the film’s plot (or not-quite-plot, depending on your viewpoint) is certainly bolstered by the presence of Paul’s companions: the friendly, yet problematically hedonistic Dusan Merkovic (Christoph Waltz), and the persistent-idealistic Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau: who’s portrayal was influenced in part by Flannery O’Connor and Berta Caceres).

Downsizing’s other strength is it’s aesthetic. Seeing the architecture in Leisureland (the downsized community Paul lives in) is like watching the work of a passionate dollhouse collector, as various styles of architecture and luxury are brought together in a wonderful arrangement. The film’s dollhouse-like scenes, however, come even before miniaturization is brought into play, for instance in the cluttered, yet pristine biology lab where the film opens. While the film’s aesthetic was clearly a big budget effort, it nonetheless manages to have fun with simple-size play as well. There’s a scene where Paul decorates his house with a non miniaturized rose, a visual that should stun audiences as much it stuns Paul’s neighbor Dusan.

Downsizing can be a bleak movie, but it’s a relaxing bleakness that takes you down a beautiful river of color. It is a story of sad characters. Paul is haunted by the loneliness and frustrations of his own life. Tran is driven by her far darker past as a political dissent who was forcibly downsized. The film nonetheless manages to be light-hearted due to Paul’s constant willingness to explore solutions to his problems and Tran’s seemingly hapless pursuit of her idealism. Perhaps Downsizing lacks a fully developed story line, but contrary to what many critics seem to say, I don’t think that failure makes a meh movie out of a good idea: rather, it only suggests that this great movie could have been even better.

 

Faces Places (2017)

Written by: Agnes Varda, Directed by: Varda and JR

Visages,_Villages      It’s not hard to find a good documentary film. There are plenty of subjects worth learning about in two hour sequences of moving, colored images. Great documentaries, however, blur the lines between fiction and non-fiction. In some cases, producing a documentary like this requires a huge historical coincidence. That was the case with Joshua Oppenheimer’s, The Act of Killing, which explored the eagerness of people who had committed horrid acts of political murder in Indonesia to explore their acts through participation in gangster films.

In other (lighter), cases, however, quasi-fictional documentaries requires the spark of their director’s. Yes, for instance, told the story of a Québecois-Separatist-artist’s journey to immerse himself in the Scottish independence movement. This year saw the release of a similarly inspired documentary: Agnes Varda’s Faces Places.

Faces Places features Varda following JR, a young photographer who prints out giant photographs of his subjects and prints them on public buildings. Varda explains her investment in the project by noting her desire to get to know more people. Each of the film’s subjects is brought to attention for very different reasons: some speak to a history of working class suffering, others ask us to reconsider the dominant farmer-farm-animal relationship, while others are simply locals offered the chance to gnaw on a baguette.

I began to doubt the film’s potential about a third of the way in. While Varda and JR were certainly finding original subjects to portray, I found the art that the film focused on to be getting a bit repetitive. Furthermore, I questioned the approach of always decorating walls with giant cut outs of people. If this film was truly a celebration of faces and places, wouldn’t it be a better idea to make some smaller cut outs, so as not to obscure buildings in their entirety, and so as not to deny the chance of other people involved in the history of a site to be represented?

My fears were soon assuaged, however. While I may maintain some artistic differences with JR, those differences became increasingly irrelevant as the film came to be about Varda and JR, not so much their art. For instance, one of the subjects that Varda proposes JR document is someone she photographed in her past, not necessarily a person with an area defining story. The film also shows us their conversations along the way. We see Varda’s ambivalent relationship to her age (approximately 88 at the time of the filming). On the one hand, as in previous works, she exposes her aging on film via depictions of medical procedures performed on her eyes. On the other hand, she is insistent on maintaining her youth, through example, through her bright orange hair and by contrasting herself with JR’s 100-year old grandmother. JR’s personality, meanwhile, remains more mysterious. Varda, however, regularly questions his reserved tone, particularly his decision to always wear sunglasses.

Faces Places, in short is a little bit political, a little bit educational, and a little bit of an homage to film history. More than anything else, however, its a buddy comedy like none you’ve probably ever seen. While its premise may prove a hard sell, those who do choose to see it will find that it is an easy work to love and perhaps one of the most creative cinematic concepts of the year.

England is Mine (2017)

Directed by Mark Gill, Written by: Gill and William Thacker

 

England_is_Mine_(One_Sheet)Before he was the frontman of The Smiths, Morrissey was still very much the figure he comes across as in his lyrics: depressed and weary of other humans.  That is essentially the premise of this most recent biopic, which notably cuts-off shortly after he meets Johnny Marr and becomes established as a star. In essence, it is a film based on a mostly-good premise, that due to the narrow confines of the biography-genre ends up being, not awful, but certainly rather boring.

The story follows Morrissey’s (Jack Lowden) struggles as a young worker at an accounting firm, and his outings with various friends/quasi-girlfriends who are clearly impressed with his writing talents and eager to promote his star, but who get little help from him whatsoever. The young Morrissey can write endless strings of insults, and boasts a massive library of classic literature. While he is easily unimpressed, he shows sincere appreciation when he hears quotes from these works or when given the chance to share his record collection. Another ambiguity in his personality is the source of his depression. The film makes clear it is not a mere performative quirk by showing his use of anti-depressants, while simultaneously implying that some of his sadness may be a genuine reaction to his having the seemingly hopeless dream of becoming a rock singer. It is to the film maker’s credit, that all possible explanations for Morrissey’s troubles are presented in moderation. He may have had Disney-esque dreams, but the film rightly knew not to present said dreams with Disney-esque sentiment.

Young Morrissey is a compellingly frustrating character. There are several moments when he seems on the verge of making a human or musical connection, and yet the combination of his shyness and cynicism pulls him away from it. If the writers of the film had been willing to take this persona and transform it into a Morrissey-type, or simply take creative liberties with his life story (and perhaps experiment more with non-conventional/non-linear narrative) they might have a created a compelling film. Instead, however, Morrissey’s personality is hung out to dry, as in his realistic existence, it is left with no plot to interact with. While the film ultimately brings Morrissey and Marr together, this ending has little to do with the drama (or lack there of) that ensues beforehand.

An odd omission from the work is Morrissey’s vegetarianism (he became vegetarian at age 11). While the topic is hinted at (there is a joke about how he only eats toast), given his otherwise explosive persona, it seems a shame that the film did not use his “meat is murder” sentiments as a means of adding more tension to the screenplay.

England is Mine’s slow realism spares it from sappiness, saving its entertainment value somewhat. Hardcore Morrissey fans, as well as those familiar with the work of his friend, the artist Linder Sterling (Jessica Brown Findlay) may still get something out of it. Nonetheless, the flamboyant nihilism of the Smiths unfortunately fails to translate to this mundanely nihilistic story.