D: Guy Myhill / 84m
Cast: Liam Walpole, Sean Harris, Sienna Guillory, Marama Corlett, Oliver Kennedy, Hannah Spearritt, Paul Popplewell, Joe Copsey
Watching The Goob, it’s tempting to ask the question, just how many disaffected, aimless teenagers are there in the world? And following on from that question, it’s equally as tempting to ask: why is it that their mothers all seem to take up with violent, reprehensible boyfriends? Sometimes it seems that when it comes to teenagers navigating the ups and downs of trying to find their way in the world, the movies rely on too many clichés to get the story told. Cliché no 1: have the teenager sulk a lot and look miserable. Cliché no 2: make sure the teenager has very little dialogue, and that when he or she does speak, it’s in monosyllables. Cliché no 2a: and if they do speak, make sure they don’t articulate any feelings or emotions. Cliché no 3: make sure the teenager is shown walking or running or riding a bicycle or moped in a generally aimless direction (and more than once). Cliché no 4: give the teenager a chance at a meaningful relationship with a person of the opposite sex, but then ensure that something happens to ruin it. And cliché no 5: always, always, have the teenager do something that will alienate them even further.
Guy Myhill’s debut feature ticks all these boxes and more in its attempt to tell the story of Goob Taylor, a sixteen year old living in the wilds of rural Norfolk who we meet on a school bus heading home after his last day in full-time education. Home is a weather-worn diner run by his mother, Janet (Guillory), somewhere on a main road but only able to attract the custom of the local residents (which is strange, as aside from the odd building here and there, and a custom car race track, housing seems to be in very short supply). Janet and Goob have a strong, loving relationship, but recently she’s started seeing Gene (Harris), a local beet farmer and would-be race car champion who’s also a vindictive bully. Gene seems only interested in Janet for sex, while he treats Goob and his older brother, Rod (Copsey), with complete disdain. A joy ride in Gene’s race car ends in a crash that sees Rod ending up in hospital, but Goob barely suffering a scratch. This leads to Goob having to help Gene on his beet farm, holed up in a pit overnight to watch out for anyone trying to steal the crop.
The arrival of help in the form of Elliott (Kennedy), an upbeat, continually smiling young man a little older than Goob hints at a potential gay love interest, but Myhill avoids this by introducing instead a field worker called Eva (Corlett), whom Goob takes a shine to. As their relationship develops, it starts to provoke an envious response in Gene, who watches the pair from a distance, and with the intention of interfering. At a party where all the field workers are invited, Eva and one of Gene’s friends head off to play snooker but it’s not long before Gene interrupts their game in order to be alone with Eva and try his luck. When she rejects his advances he’s less than gentle in his response. Goob appears to rescue Eva and confront Gene, but whatever plan Goob has, Gene isn’t remotely aware of it, and their confrontation doesn’t go as Goob would like…
As well as the clichés listed above, there are several more that could be added. While the movie paints a melancholy tale of a life headed nowhere, literally and figuratively, this would be fine if there was any likelihood that Goob’s situation would be any different at the end of the movie from what it is at the beginning. Goob is not just stuck in the middle of nowhere, he’s stuck with no ambition and no willingness to improve his life in any meaningful way. His relationship with his mother constantly hints at being inappropriate – they play wrestle on her bed, she hugs him tightly and tells him he’ll still be her “boy” even when he’s forty-six – and she appears to gain more emotional support from him than the other way round. But while Myhill signposts this sort of thing with the appearance that it’s all relevant and will be explored later in the movie, this subplot and several others fall by the wayside with increasing frequency. The same is true of a scene where Goob discovers Gene having sex with Mary (Spearritt), a young girl who helps out in the diner. You’d be willing to bet that Goob will use this at some point to expose Gene in front of his mother, but it’s not even referred to. In The Goob, it’s surprising how many blind alleys there are lurking in the rural vastness of the Norfolk countryside.
With much of the plot lacking development, and less exploration of the characters’ states of mind than benefits the material, Myhill is rescued by Simon Tindall’s impressive cinematography, and sterling performances from Harris (convincing as always; now give this man a comedy, for God’s sake) and newcomer Walpole, whose glum demeanour and pouty stare adds to the sense of Goob’s isolation from those around him. But neither can detract from the pervading sense of familiarity that watching the movie provokes, nor the idea that Myhill has opted for style over substance in his efforts to tell Goob’s story – such as it is.
Rating: 5/10 – containing too many elements that don’t add up or are just ignored as the movie progresses, The Goob looks more persuasive than it is, and only occasionally proves as compelling as it should be; an occasion where less is just that, it’s a movie that looks good on the surface, but which tells its story without stopping to convince the audience how its main character feels about anything that’s happening to him or around him. (19/31)