Film Review: Best Laid Plans
Videogame High School
- Director: Someone who won’t admit it (2012)
Word of advice: NEVER let the person you’re allowed to violate choose the Sunday night film. It turns out just because someone has demonstrated exquisite taste in their choice of annoying, poorly endowed, wannabe indie filmmaker sexual partner, it doesn’t mean they’ll pick a good ‘film’. I write film as ‘film’ because Videogame High School was actually a web series broadcast as a film on Nextflix. We managed 4 minutes, something to do with a Call of Duty advertisement and what I think was an Asian violence gang, no idea what was happening and I don’t want to know, absolutely atrocious, made for idiots.
Best Laid Plans
Director: David Blair (2012)
Best Laid Plans is a British indie film I chose because I thought my girlfriend would like it the title didn’t contain the words ‘Video’ or ‘School’. It claimed to be loosely based on the novel Of Mice and Men, but to be honest that’s either massive artistic use of the phrase ‘loosely based’ or I’ve somehow ended up reading a watered down version of the Steinbeck classic that cut out the cage fighting, casual drug use, prostitution and fishing bits. ‘Has a big strong guy with severe learning difficulties a bit like the book Of Mice and Men’ would have been a more honest accurate description.
In an alternate version of Nottingham where barely anyone speaks with an accent like the ‘fookin’ rocket scientist in Misfits, it’s snowed. Amongst the snow we meet Danny (Stephen Graham, the fantastic Combo in Shane ‘thank you, for being you’ Meadow’s This is England) and Joseph (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje who played Mr Ecko, one of the only things I remember fondly from my days watching Lost). Joseph is a big guy with severe learning difficulties a bit like that guy in the Steinbeck novel Of Mice and Men, so it’s down to Danny to take care of him.
Unfortunately Danny’s a bit of a wheeler dealer and has managed to lose some ‘merchandise’ belonging to EVIL street entrepreneur Curtis (David O’Hara, sounding like if Stephen Hawking’s robot voice smoked 60 Berkeley red a day). Curtis has made the obvious business expansion from dr………. sorry ‘merchandise’ dealing to internationally broadcasting illegal bareknuckle cage fights, so he gives Danny a chance to repay his debts by putting Joseph in said fights. Joseph is understandably hesitant, but also lacks mental capacity and soon we get to see the joys a big guy with learning difficulties a bit like that guy in Of Mice and Men tearfully fight shirtless guys in cages.
Elsewhere the two experience a couple of romantic subplots. Danny meets Lisa (Emma Stansfield a fine actor but underused) a lady of……………….negotiable affection, who can also draw a bit………… and in a more fully developed and well-rounded story arc we see Joseph saving Isabel (Maxine Peake, another fine actor who I remember in Dinner Ladies) from a gang of EVIL Nottingham children. The gang of EVIL Nottingham children chose to pick on Isabel because she too has learning difficulties, so naturally the result of Josephs heroics is the two engaging in a sweet, learning difficulties centred romance, because you know, a place for everything and everything in its place…………….
Also there’s a decent if brief turn by Lee Ingleby as a rival gangster to Curtis, while Peter Wright and Sarah Parks nicely portray Isabel’s dedicated yet worried parents.
Plot summary ends.
Right, let’s get this out of the way now; Best Laid Plans chose very deliberately to compare itself to Of Mice and Men, sadly I can only think of two possible reasons for this; either the comparison was a cynical attempt to convince viewers they were watching something far deeper and more profound than is the case, or the makers fundamentally miss the point completely (while I get the point exactly) of Of Mice and Men.
I’m going to be kind (bordering on naive) and work on the assumption it’s the latter.
With Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck was making a profoundly accurate commentary on the life of the working class. The characters of George Milton and Lennie Small are tragic not because of any physical or mental problems, but because they have simple and relatable dreams that the world will never allow them to achieve; owning property, finding love, catching rabbits. They work hard and do everything they can but, through no fault of their own they realistically have no chance of any success and will ultimately suffer greatly…………. Which just for the for the record is not at all like being a wannabe indie filmmaker……………..
In Best Laid Plans, Danny and Joseph who has a learning difficulty a bit like that guy in Of Mice and Men certainly traverse the realms of tragic, but there’s no real reason or context given as to why. Danny isn’t hard up for cash and in trouble because he’s a cog in an unfeeling society set up for the rich to exploit the poor, he’s hard up because he wastes money on drugs. Ok, so addiction is the tragedy right? Well no, for one Danny isn’t actually all that frequent a drug user, certainly his lucidity and awareness suggests he’s not on a trainspotting or Requiem for a Dream level, and more importantly there’s absolutely no explanation given for why Danny uses drugs in the first place. On top of that there’s actually very little stopping Danny and Joseph packing up and leaving for good, save the money for some train fare which we see Danny handed several times.
Similarly, in comparison to the big guy with severe learning difficulties in Of Mice and Men, Lennie Small, Joseph’s character is actually quite tame and generic. In Of Mice and Men: Lennie sticks with George because they have a shared dream, MEANWHILE in Best laid Plans: Josephs entire motivation comes down to not letting people hurt Danny and the only reason we get for that, is he has learning difficulties. In Of Mice and Men it’s Lennies brief yet poignant sexual encounter with the faded belle that is the farm owners wife and how close he comes to a ‘normal’ existence/experience, before it turns to tragedy, that’s so effective and powerful, leading to an end that’s distressing in its inevitability. In comparison, giving Joseph a love interest that also has a learning difficulty is at best unambitious and at worst a pretty horrible message about societies expectations.
Got all that? Good, because move away from the claims of being a social study, character study or attempt at profound message on the lives of the poor and Best Laid Plans is actually a pretty decent film, I certainly enjoyed it.
What surprised me was how sincere the story was. At no point is the joke on Joseph because he has learning difficulties, in fact the only time a truly harsh comment involving a word like ‘mong’ gets made it‘s Danny making it, and by then I’d become so attached to the two I inhaled and exclaimed to my girlfriend ‘that was harsh’. It’s touching to see how much time has been taken to flesh out Joseph’s character and not just use his situation as a plot device for cheap laughs or disingenuous tension.
It probably helps the acting is exquisite, the support all do their jobs amicably and Stephen Graham as Danny makes for an amazingly watchable and endearing lead, but it’s Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje I give the major plaudits to.
Mr Ecko Akinnuoye-Agbaje pitches the character of Joseph perfectly, not one sentence delivered out of place, not one facial expression jarring. Let’s be honest, film fans are dicks, so when a big guy comes along acting out learning difficulties like that guy in Of Mice and Men, he’s going to have to work very hard to not get some laughs in the wrong places. Not once did me or the girl I’m allowed to violate laugh out of place and we really got into the story, which says a lot because we’re both absolutely horrible people and normally laugh hysterically at the sight of black men with learning difficulties fighting in cages.
Credit also goes to writers Jeremy Sheldon and Chris Green for producing a well told story, while ‘mad props’ are there for director David Blair to take. Best Laid Plans as a film is very well made, takes it’s time, builds slowly and doesn’t fall into the trap of over-indulgence or miss stepping into trying to be easy on its audience. The cage fights are a great example of this, the cage fights themselves, while well filmed, aren’t actually very long and during each the focus is on everything going on outside the cage, Danny’s torment at watching his friend go through a horrible situation he can’t comprehend and EVIL businessmen like Curtis who look disgusted at events but know it’s ‘best for business’.
There’s an approach that quite often but not always works when examining how well this type of story is told, I call it the, how many bullets are shot and how important is the act of shooting them? Generally the lower the number of bullet shots the greater their importance and consequentially the deeper the story.
Applying this approach to Best Laid Plans the answer is one, very and deep as fu………………………………………insert analogy for something deep here.
Looks wise you could perhaps criticise Best Laid Plans for being a little dull, but you shouldn’t because it fits the story perfectly, it’s the little things like the decrepit nature of Danny’s flat compared to the luxury of Isobel’s house or Curtis’s apartment that say more than words and save us from the boring expository dialogue that a million and one studio projects build boring 100 minute ‘epics’ on.
In summary then, Best Laid Plans is a deep and well told story, well-acted, well executed and enjoyable to watch even if you are about to give up on life after watching 4 minutes of Video Game High School. It’s marketed horribly and whoever wrote the box blurb has no respect either for Steinbeck, their viewers or both, but ignore the bullshit claims of greatness and you have a pretty decent film…………… I recommend, I really do.
Written by Sam ‘better than Jesus’ McKinstrie
Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP
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