Friday, 29 May 2015
Flatlands: "The Goob"
The title of Guy Myhill's social realist coming-of-ager The Goob requires some explanation, although one need only watch a few minutes to discern that it might be synonymous with "dweeb" or "dork". Our lanky 18-year-old protagonist (Liam Walpole) is heading home on the final school bus before the summer holidays, and then life itself - home, in this case, being a rundown diner on the fringes of rural Norfolk, which the Goob - as he's known - shares with his mother (Sienna Guillory) and her boyfriend Womack (Sean Harris), a petty, tattooed tyrant whose standing as a local stock car champ has led him to a decidedly inflated opinion of himself. It's this shadow of a man, we learn, who conferred that demeaning nickname upon our boy: it might, perhaps, be short for the American term "goober".
Practically the first spoken line of Myhill's film is the bus driver advising the Goob to get the hell out of this shithole, and the somewhat hazy narrative comes to track the path by which this meek, voyeuristically inclined introvert eventually makes his way out into the world. Though The Goob could be held up as a banner example of the kind of regional filmmaking our London-centric industry has traditionally been slow to support, one suspects Myhill won't be receiving the call from the Norfolk Tourist Board any time soon. His Norfolk is a place where watching burnt-out old bangers race round and round in circles counts as the epitome of excitement and glamour; where a fumble in the stock car circuit's toilets might very well be scored to Lieutenant Pigeon's less than arousing "Mouldy Old Dough"; where - to continue the musical theme (and Myhill displays a keen ear for such things) - even the once bright-eyed and bushy-tailed former S Club popstrel Hannah Spearritt might be reduced to minimum-wage drudgery, scraping fat off a grill and accepting sexual advances from allcomers.
Yet having established these decidedly narrow story perimeters, what Myhill chooses to do within them proves far less persuasive: his film takes on the look of another of those British debut features that stalled in the process of developing a good shorts director into a fully-fledged auteur. In the absence of any forceful narrative progression, the drabness starts to feel too much - the keepin'-it-real default setting of a particular kind of British indie cinema. (We're moving through much the same strained territory as 2012's Strawberry Fields, several Duane Hopkins dispatches, and - further North - the Wolfe brothers' recent Catch Me Daddy.) In place of the poetry conjured by Andrea Arnold, reigning queen of social realism, Myhill ventures longish stretches of prose, as flat as the landscape: cue plentiful shots of Walpole looking gormless while hanging out in trees or fields, like a lost Treadaway brother.
Of the other performers, Guillory remains at risk of becoming one of those actresses - like, say, Jodie Whittaker - who spend their entire careers on the sidelines in underdeveloped supporting roles, for Myhill's gaze and focus is almost exclusively male. It gets predictable: whenever our boy starts to have fun, we can be fairly sure Harris's big bad ogre will march in to stop it, and while the actor hardly gives a bad performance, he can provide only so much variation in the role of black cloud. It's inevitable such a philandering brute will take against the Goob's effeminate friend Elliot (Oliver Kennedy), whose party piece is dragging up and lipsynching to old Northern Soul hits; it's just repetitive when he intervenes in our boy's budding rapport with a migrant girl (Marama Corlett) who's arrived on site to pick cabbages.
What Myhill may have learnt is that it's a tricky business making compulsive drama out of cycles of destructive masculine behaviour - that, unless they're very careful, a filmmaker risks aping his characters in hitting the same grim beats over and over again, and in doing so trying the patience of his audience. He builds a brooding, ominous atmosphere here nevertheless, and with director of photography Simon Tindall constructs a film that catches the eye, even as it struggles to hold the attention: as its Venice slot last year suggests, it's a respectable enough calling card, if not quite the breath of fresh air it might have been.
The Goob opens in selected cinemas from today.