Thursday 7 November 2019

Man on the brink: "Connect"

Connect is a well-meaning Brit indie that fumbles its way through the never-more-urgent topic of soaring male suicide rates. Writer-director Marilyn Edmond sets out what's effectively a case study, following the downcast Brian (Kevin Guthrie, from Terence Davies' Sunset Song) as he trudges through a generally underlit existence as a hardware store flunky in chilly North Berwick. Multiple red flags - a blokey flatmate (Conor McCarron) who dismisses self-care as for pussies; a distant father; a marked lack of friends - are quickly raised; anyone with a social services background will be itching to make an intervention of some form from around the twenty-minute mark. Yet what follows proves misleadingly cosy, tending to raise these issues in passing without properly addressing them. The bulk of the running time is instead turned over to Brian's hesitant relationship with a single mother (Siobhan Reilly), which we sense will either prove his salvation or a real test of his ability to absorb the vicissitudes of life. For a while, Connect snuggles into that dramatic nook separating optimism from outright romanticism. But it can't hide there forever.

Its strengths are Laura Dennett's attentive location shooting - reframing a thin slip of coastline on the Firth of Forth as alternately a picturesque wonder or the world's end, depending on Brian's mood - and Guthrie's central performance as a lad who's not entirely beyond hope. Too often, however, Edmond forces him into scenes that overcrank just how close Brian is to the edge: you lose track of the number of times he's seen wobbling around on the local clifftops, and there's a comical evocation of a seniors' day care centre - oldsters! Eating Hobnobs! With dentures! - as a kind of hell on earth. This century's most accomplished screen depiction of suicidal tendencies, Joachim Trier's Oslo, August 31st, understood that depression is most often experienced as a small blue thing nagging and eating away at sufferers from the inside out. You could argue it's almost too ordinary and internalised a subject for the cinema - it's certainly a difficult one to do right by, as Edmond's hamfisted finale, with its vague overtones of the M. Night Shyamalan canon, demonstrates: let's just say it's a risky choice to end a movie tackling male depression on such a serious downer, sending the viewer out into the night with a lacklustre cover of "Blue Christmas" ringing in our ears. It's possible someone will recognise aspects of themselves in Brian, and that the film will serve as a conversation starter, perhaps even a lifeline - but it's stretched perilously thin in places, and in others appears horribly snagged.

Connect is now playing in selected cinemas.

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