Wednesday 12 January 2011

On DVD: "SoulBoy"

Shimmy Marcus's clumsy yet likable Britpic SoulBoy feels like a spin-off from the least convincing scene in Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's Cemetery Junction - an evocation of the 1970s Northern Soul scene, and of the hallowed Wigan Casino allnighter in particular - complete with a supporting role for Felicity Jones (Cemetery's love interest) to ease the move north. Our hero is unworldly Stoke lad Joe (Martin Compston, above), an apprentice potatoman by trade, who locks eyes with an out-of-his-league hairdresser (Nichola Burley, not quite cut out for siren roles) across the dancefloor, all the while overlooking Jones's nice girl Mandy, who - by way of adding to all this Gervaisian slippage - harbors art ambitions comparable to The Office's creatively frustrated Dawn.

The direction is prone to the occasional misstep: one early, druggy montage is as unfunny as these things tend to be, and the villains (Burley's overprotective beau, an abusive chip-shop proprietor) are set out in the clearest black and white. By and large, however, SoulBoy is clear-eyed enough to paint the industrial north of the era in drab browns and beiges, all bad hairdos and kipper ties. Even the Casino is not quite the romanticised palace of dreams it might have been: "What a dump!," is the first reaction of Joe's best friend (Alfie Allen) upon first gaining entry.

If the self-actualisation narrative that plays out here is somewhat rote - Joe has to fight to become lord of the dance, after years of finishing second in ice-skating competitions - Marcus is at least attentive to the rituals that made the Casino central to so many young lives: the coaches pulling up from such glamorous locales as Middlesbrough and Dundee, the floor being sprinkled with talcum powder to provide extra purchase, the rare vintage 7"s being flogged from trestle tables in the foyer, the bizarre refreshment policy that didn't stretch to a bar, but looked the other way while handfuls of uppers were necked to aid flagging dancers through the wee small hours.

Regional rather than national (which would explain the film's sustained box-office run outside London), doing its best to conjure up an entire scene with maybe three dozen extras, it's an inherently modest proposition, and - at barely 75 minutes - perhaps more soundtrack than movie at that: again, you do wish British filmmakers would take the time to develop their ideas properly, rather than rushing to film whatever they can before the money runs out. Still, whether cueing Gloria Jones's monumental original "Tainted Love" or The Tams' "Be Young, Be Foolish, But Be Happy", Marcus - like his namesake Greil - at least understands the power of music to encapsulate a particular moment. During one of his more clueless episodes, young Joe happens to let slip to his boss that the Tom Jones LP he gave away "was just a record". The boss's response is immediate: "Records say things" - and SoulBoy is content to let its songs do much of its talking.

SoulBoy is now available on DVD.

No comments:

Post a Comment