D: Ben Wheatley / 95m
Cast: Sarah Baxendale, Sudha Bhuchar, Asim Choudhry, Joe Cole, Charles Dance, Sura Dohnke, Vincent Ebrahim, Peter Ferdinando, Richard Glover, Alexandra Maria Lara, Doon Mackichan, Neil Maskell, Sinead Matthews, Mark Monero, Bill Paterson, Sam Riley, Hayley Squires
For Colin Burstead (Maskell), a New Year’s Eve party for his extended family at a seaside country manor seems like a great idea. But as he and his wife, Val (Dohnke), and the rest of the guests begin to arrive, the chances of the event going smoothly becomes increasingly unlikely, and begins when his mother, Sandy (Mackichan) trips over the front step and injures her ankle. With his father, Gordon (Paterson), trying desperately to convince Colin to lend him a large amount of money, and the news that his estranged brother, David (Riley), has been invited as a surprise by his sister, Jini (Squires), Colin begins to feel more and more agitated as he tries to keep everything from falling apart. With most of the other guests having their own issues to deal with – uncle Bertie (Dance) is a cross-dresser with a bleak immediate future, Val is perturbed by the presence of Lainey (Matthews), a member of the hotel staff who dated Colin before he and Val met – the arrival of David threatens to ruin everything…
With its simple premise and very basic set up, Happy New Year, Colin Burstead introduces us to yet another dysfunctional family whose individual idiosyncracies and personal motivations will ensure an awkward time is had by all, thereby allowing the viewer to reap the dramatic and comedic benefits. You know from the start that it’s all going to go badly wrong, as soon as David’s name is mentioned. You just don’t know how, and part of the fun of Ben Wheatley’s latest, emotional violence only, movie is in trying to work out just how it will all go downhill, and how rapidly. But Wheatley (here stripping back Coriolanus and using it as the basis for the action), isn’t just interested in revealing secrets and infidelities, he’s more concerned with the effects that these have had on his characters, and where those effects have brought them. In the end it doesn’t matter what David has done (though we do find out), but what is is how it informs the responses of everyone else. What this leads to, and what is refreshing in terms of the drama, is the restrained nature of the fallout itself. No one comes to blows with anyone else, and though there are plenty of strong verbal exchanges, Wheatley refrains from making this anything more than the kind of family disagreements that we’ve all witnessed.
So, while Wheatley’s restraint is admirable in terms of making things unpredictable, it does, however, have the unfortunate effect of making the drama of the situation itself feel less impactful. With its documentary style camerawork courtesy of long-term collaborator, DoP Laurie Rose, the movie flits from character to character with a restlessness that gives the movie some much needed energy and pace, but which doesn’t entirely hide the fact that the various storylines and personal intrigues on display aren’t as interesting or as provocative as might be expected. Also, some of the characters – necessarily perhaps – are marginalised by the demands of Wheatley’s script, which begs the question, why have so many? As a result, cast members such as Ferdinando and Cole have little to do, while some of the storylines peter out thanks to the need to address the issue of what David did. Though the movie suffers accordingly, and ends with a scene that some viewers might sympathise with (though for different reasons), Wheatley’s script does ensure that there’s plenty of dry wit on display, and the characters and their foibles are both recognisable, and understandable.
Rating: 7/10 – with an ensemble cast of British acting talent that takes to the material with obvious enthusiasm, Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is writer/director Ben Wheatley’s most relaxed and (for British audiences at least) accessible movie to date; with echoes of Mike Leigh’s work about it – the improvised dialogue, the emotive undercurrents – it’s a movie that takes a different tack with what is over-familiar territory, but in doing so, forgets to provide anything too memorable for viewers to take away with them.
NOTE: Currently, there isn’t a trailer available for Happy New Year, Colin Burstead.