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SuperBob

D: Jon Drever / 82m

Cast: Brett Goldstein, Natalia Tena, Catherine Tate, Laura Haddock, Ruth Sheen, David Harewood, Ricky Grover, Christian Contreras, Martin McDougall

First brought to life in a three-minute short in 2009, SuperBob has been expanded to feature length movie proportions, and where some shorts should always remain as they are, here the team of writer/director Drever and writer/star Goldstein have spent the intervening years wisely avoiding the pitfalls of “going large”, and have crafted a low budget British superhero movie that is really a sweet-natured romantic comedy.

Bob (Goldstein) is a postman whose dull, ordinary life is changed forever when he’s struck by a meteorite in the middle of a park in Peckham. Quickly claimed by the British Ministry of Defence as their primary asset in emergency situations, and regarded by the jealous Americans as an uncontrollable weapon, Bob is given into the care of MoD bigwig Theresa (Tate), who manages his missions and oversees his private life as well. He has his own (completely unnecessary) security guard, Barry (Grover), and a cleaner, Dorris (Tena) who is from Colombia.

Six years on from being struck by the meteorite, Theresa decides it’s about time that the public see that Bob is actually pretty normal. She hires a documentary film crew to interview Bob and follow him around. Through this device we discover that Bob is a lonely, socially awkward man who has the support (of most) of his local community, but who is yearning to be loved. He is about to go on a date with local librarian June (Haddock) when Theresa hijacks him for a publicity shoot with US Senator Jackson (McDougall). Torn between wanting to go on his date and his sense of duty to the MoD, Bob’s hesitation is made harder to resolve by Dorris’s telling him he should say No more often.

Right about now viewers will probably be expecting SuperBob to become the tale of an affable, easily-swayed superhero who learns to stand up for himself and becomes his own man. And you’d be right. But it’s the way in which he achieves all this that makes the movie so charming and enjoyable. For instead of having Bob flex his muscles and take on hordes of special ops soldiers as they try to bring him back in line, Bob’s search for true love and someone “to shine his shoes with” (an unusual but lovely line retained from the short), takes centre stage.

SuperBob - scene

There’ll be no prizes for guessing just who it is that Bob realises he’s in love with, nor given that he’s inadvertently called her a whore earlier in the movie, that they’ll still end up together. But even though SuperBob follows the dictates of romantic comedies with enthusiasm, it does so with a freshness and a charm (yes, it’s that word again – it’s hard to avoid) that paints a wide grin on the viewer’s face and dares them to wipe it off. There’s a scene at the care home where Bob’s mother, Pat (Sheen), resides that is so simply and yet so effectively done that its very simplicity is to be applauded. Make no mistake, this may be a superhero movie on the surface, but underneath that enticing facade, this is a movie that is one of the most effortlessly romantic comedies of this or any other recent year.

It’s also deceptively and continuously funny, with Bob’s shy, awkward personality proving a winner in the Wildly Inappropriate Public Speaking category (his idea of congratulating a couple celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary is both cringeworthy and hilarious at the same time). And like all the best socially awkward people, Bob often gets things completely and utterly wrong, like the local gospel choir he joins each week; he’s so pleased when their rehearsal ends early, his crestfallen face when he hears them start up again – though entirely predictable – is still a cause for sadness and mirth in equal measure. It’s at moments like these, when Bob’s naturally optimistic disposition is dented that Goldstein is at his most effective, his smiling features slackening for a few seconds, his disappointment registering for just a moment until he regains a grip on that positive attitude. (And this is without mentioning some great visual gags.)

Drever orchestrates it all with a simplicity that matches the needs of the script, and he is very adept at ringing out the pathos of Bob’s situation without resorting to overstating it. He’s helped by a terrific performance by Goldstein that is best exemplified by the moment when Bob finds himself ordered away from the scene of a bad traffic accident (Theresa insists he only goes on MoD-sanctioned missions). It’s the movie’s most dramatic scene, and could have felt out-of-place, but Drever uses it to show the frustration that we would all feel in such circumstances, and the devastating effect it has on Bob.

SuperBob - scene2

Tate provides solid support in the role of overbearing beauracrat Theresa, relishing her tough-as-nails personality and commitment to keeping Bob as a British asset. Tena is abrasive and vulnerable as Dorris, while Haddock goes from playfully besotted to hopelessly obsessive in the space of a few minutes. Sheen portrays Bob’s embarrassing mother with a twinkle in her eye, and Harewood pops up throughout as a newscaster following the story of Bob’s (UN sanctioned) day off. And there’s a great little cameo from the comedian Joe Wilkinson who is probably the person least impressed by Bob’s powers.

The movie does have its flaws, but most of them are entirely forgivable, such as a few of Bob’s means-well utterances that are too contrived to work properly. The idea that Bob is being followed around by a documentary film crew soon becomes hit and miss due to the needs of the script, and the whole subplot involving US fears that Bob is uncontrollable seems shoehorned in to add some drama to the proceedings, but it’s not really needed. And the tight budget means that the visuals don’t always look as sharp as they need to. But again, these are minor problems in a movie that has so much going on that works, that it seems churlish to mention them.

Rating: 8/10 – an unabashed gem of a movie, SuperBob is a delight from start to finish, and features a great romantic thread that anchors the movie and its characters with formidable ease; a superhero movie with a tremendous difference then, and one that can be highly recommended as a refreshing antidote to the bloated offerings available elsewhere.

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