Film Review: Sightseers
Director: Ben Wheatley (2012)
About three minutes in and I knew Sightseers (seen at where else, The Showroom Cinema) would be a film I’d like, here’s my thought process at the time……..
‘Oh this is quite funny, good dialogue, nice characters, nothing too polished or rough, not too many arty shots, I’m digging this, oh it’s the lady out of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and that dude who’s in every surreal British thing ever getting into a car, oh the dialogue between the lady out of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and her character’s mother is funny, haha accident……. HOLY SHIT Tainted Love by Soft Cell, I fucking love this film!’
Inevitably love dwindled to like, but like is good, like is very good, these days like for a British comedy is equivalent to an alcoholic managing a dry month and Sightseers is a film I like quite a bit.
More on that story and a closing paragraph giving my opinion on caravan holidays after the plot summary……………………………
Lady out of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace Alice Lowe (also co-wrote the screenplay because lady out of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace got talent) plays Tina, a 30-something who lives with her mother (a wonderfully sadistic Eileen Davies, an actor I doubt anyone could find any reason to complain about, unless she, you know, supported fox-hunting or something, which she might, I haven’t done the leg work, but assuming she didn’t, there would be no reason to complain, in fact unnecessarily thinking about it some more, a taste for fox hunting shouldn’t really impact on how people view the quality of your acting performance). Tina and mother don’t get along so well, something to do with an accident involving a dog named Poppy. I grew up with a dog named Poppy (incidentally my first word), she was an Airedale terrier who my cool mum and dad had put down after she stopped being able to go outside to the toilet and pissed on the carpet, I hope when the time comes, my family will do the same for me.
Anyway, Tina has met Dude who’s in every surreal British thing ever Chris (real name Steve Oram, funnily enough the other co-writer) and the two plan a romantic caravan holiday together (if such a thing can be called romantic). Their plan is to visit the best sights Yorkshire and Derbyshire have to offer.
And also apparently Dronfield (at least it looks that way in a map shown during the admittedly clever introduction), which is odd, because there’s very little in Dronfield except white middle class people and a really old football team, who are called Sheffield FC, but aren’t actually allowed to play in Sheffield, because even compared to the appalling football teams of Sheffield, they’re too poor to be accepted.
Again I find myself starting a paragraph with anyway……..……………. Anyway, Tina and Chris make a pretty good couple; they’re both interested in the same things, both obviously into each other and both a bit weird, so the start of the holiday (at the national tramway museum) goes well enough. Things go off the rails (yeah I did!) slightly when a big fat guy, and it’s always a big fat guy in these instances, (small people can be dicks too) behaves badly and winds Chris up, which is bad because a caravan enthusiast like Chris just isn’t one of those confrontational types who stands up to bullies……………………… OR IS HE!……………….. One ‘accidentally’ run over big fat guy later, Chris and Tina are free to explore not only each other’s naked form (and there’s a fair bit of that) but also the joys of dog stealing and brutal murder. I don’t want to spoil it, but there’s one particular incident involving what can only be described as a mashed-up face, that leaves quite the impression.
Along the way of course, the two have the obligatory lovers tiff (or five thousand), and it’s a British comedy, so they meet lots of ‘kooky’ one dimensional characters who are either common and therefore drink, lazy and therefore do drugs or posh and therefore use phrases like ‘yes well’.
Plot summary finishes
Sightseers isn’t exactly a re-invention of the wheel, in fact I think even Futurama have done this storyline (Anthology of interest 1, the geek in me wouldn’t let me continue without naming the episode, I tried, I really really tried) but does that really matter? I mean, the batmobile and my old Peugeot 106 both had wheels, but what we did with the wheels was different (though interestingly we both hit police cars, true story). I have no problem with a new spin being put on an old subject and that’s sort of what Mr Wheatley does. I say sort of, because if you made a tick-list of all the things you’d expect to see in a Dark British comedy, and then tried to imagine that list realised as an actual film, something very close to Sightseers would be the result. Again, I want to emphasise that that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and as I’ve already stated, I quite like this film.
The acting from Lowe and Oram is brilliant, it’s got some great visual gags couple with dark, occasionally scatological one-liners, and there’s an improvised, real feel to the characters. There’s also really good use of the locations, and they manage to make fun of Tina and Chris for liking places such as The National Tramway Museum without being harsh to the freaks that actually do.
But, (and it’s a shapely, relatively small butt) love for Sightseers did turn to like, and I wouldn’t be a wannabe indie filmmaker and critic who writes reviews no-one reads if I didn’t explore such transitions. The beginning’s solid and the end may just be perfect for the type of film Sightseers is, but there’re some real draggy parts in the middle. Sightseers falls into the trap so many films centred around couples do and reduces the relationship to three simple stages; there’s the ‘we’re happy and having sex stage’, the ‘we’re unhappy and arguing or sat in silence not talking’ stage, and finally the ‘here we go confessing our souls to each other’ in which some previous untruth is revealed by one of the characters to both partner and audience in the vain hope of creating something akin to a twist that works as an explanation, or twisnation, to coin a word that will never be used. It’s not a terrible thing, but it’s not a good thing, and it can be boring as hell to watch.
What’s frustrating is we don’t ever see any middle ground; some couples talk happily to each other while also being in an argumentative kind of stage, you can still be a comedy and show me that, likewise some couples don’t ever argue, that’s fine, they can still be comedic couples, finally some couples never have sex because the wannabe indie filmmaker is so stressed out by events at a crappy supermarket and still recovering from shooting a feature in twelve days his penis has stopped working and he’s probably going to have to pilgrimage to a Hollywood film version of deepest Africa and drink sacrificial blood to get its function back, that’s comedy gold right there.
I guess what I’ve taken an age to say is at times the couple stuff in Sightseers gets a little boring. Oh and there’s also an annoying habit of skipping important stuff, for instance at one point there’s a murder involving a hen night, and the next minute it’s the next day and the two are in the ‘we’re either arguing or sat in silence not talking stage’. There’s no real explanation of what happened, and it’s a little jarring to jump forward in time for a murder to some point later in the story and miss the fallout that the act of murder tends to have, there’s usually shouting, and cleaning of hands, and stares into the middle distance aren’t uncommon either.
That said, at the end of the day Sightseers is the type of film that can incorporate Tainted Love by Soft Cell, and despite boring bits, it’s far from a boring film. It’s dark, humorous, doesn’t get bogged down taking itself too seriously and I’d recommend it, a good way to spend an hour and a half. Stay tuned for my opinion on caravan holidays.
Before that though, gotta be straight and address something………our first feature’s gonna be called Modern Toss, there was a T.V. show called Modern Toss that had nothing to do with our film (or vice-versa if you wanna remove our ego), Ben Wheatley directed the second series of Modern Toss. Sometime great minds think alike…….. and now onto caravan owning.
Engaging opinion on caravan holidays in 3……..2……….1, I have no idea what a caravan holiday is like, the closest I’ve ever come is a camping holiday I took once with some Dutch people, but I’ll tell you what I found out the hard way then, never attempt to live somewhere that can be stolen by drunk people.
Written By Sam ‘films his tears and that’s not nearly all’ McKinstrie
Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP
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