Saturday 3 September 2022

"It Snows in Benidorm" (Guardian 02/09/22)

It Snows in Benidorm
(15) **

Dir: Isabel Coixet. With: Timothy Spall, Sarita Choudhury, Carmen Machi, Ana Torrent. 117 mins.

Once a festival fixture, the Catalan writer-director Isabel Coixet has seen her star wane over recent years. Her latest presents as a post-Brexit olive branch, reminding us Brits that unspoilt sea, sand and self-improvement is only ever a few rebuilt bridges away. Yet it progresses with such eccentricity it seems unlikely to reverse anybody’s trajectory.

An especially downtrodden Timothy Spall is Peter, wearied finance drone and keen meteorology buff whose small, palpably lonely life – measured out in nightly ginger snaps – faces redirection after his brother disappears in the titular resort. Stranding this cold fish in sunnier climes, Coixet’s aiming for life-affirming. What follows ends up closer to frown-inducing, with patience-trying just round the corner.

Somewhere in here, there’s the germ of a workable idea: reclaiming the party-central destination as a place of sun-bleached mystery and potential reinvention. After a gruelling prologue in a drably unrepresentative Manchester, the film begins to breathe a little easier overseas, Jean-Claude Larrieu’s camera navigating the ratruns of funpubs to sporadically alight upon stunning backdrops.

Yet what’s upfront is forever stilted and unconvincing. Delight in seeing a filmmaker express sincere interest in the historically sidelined Sarita Choudhury is immediately cancelled out by puzzlement at what she’s doing on Spall’s balcony – and why she’s set to performing an erotic cabaret act for pensioners who patently wouldn’t be in the audience of an erotic cabaret act.

Spall soldiers on regardless, burrowing further into his recessive character, tending a bluff Northern brogue and trying to sublimate Coixet’s airier ideas. Yet his gift – for conveying a lot with a little – is squandered on a script this on-the-nose; he can but listen as police chief Carmen Machi informs him people are boxes that need opening.

Pushing its luck at two hours, it eventually collapses in a heap of such symbolism, barely unpacking its own missing-persons intrigue. Nice views en route, but it’s a tale scribbled in haste on the back of a postcard.

It Snows in Benidorm is now playing in selected cinemas.

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