Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Movie Review: Somers Town

Somers Town *** ½
Directed By:
Shane Meadows.
Written By: Paul Fraser.
Starring: Thomas Turgoose (Tomo), Piotr Jagiello (Marek), Ireneusz Czop (Mariusz), Elisa Lasowski (Maria), Perry Benson (Graham), Kate Dickey (Jane).

Shane Meadows has been acknowledged as one of England’s best up and coming directors for more than a decade now. I think it’s about time we admit that he is the real deal, and not just an up and comer. His films have yet to really break out in North America, but they are all good enough to deserve your attention. His first feature, 24 7 (1997) was a great boxing movie starring Bob Hoskins as the coach who keeps the kids in a poor neighborhood out of trouble. A Room for Romeo Brass (1999) was the story of friendship between two twelve year boys, and the dangerous stranger (played by Meadows regular Paddy Considine) who comes between them. Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (2002) is a wonderful comedy about a small time crook trying to win back his girlfriend. Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) is a gripping, and tightly made revenge thriller. He capped off this incredible run with what is easily his best film – 2006’s This is England, a movie that looks at the culture of skinheads in small town England. In total, these five films show Meadows gradually getting better and better as a director, and make up a remarkable little body of work. He looks at his childhood neighborhood in the same way Scorsese does. In short, Shane Meadows is a great director.

All of this brings us to his most recent film, Somers Town. Shot is beautiful black and white, the film is quiet, subtle character study of two teenagers in lower class England and their budding friendship. At only 70 minutes long, Somers Town is short, but that’s the proper length for this film. I am tired of movies that are bloated and pad their running times. More directors should know just how long their films need to be.

Marek (Piotr Jagiello) has recently moved to England from Poland with his father Mariusz (Ireneusz Czop). His father works all day, and drinks with his friends all night, but is not a bad guy. Something has happened between Mariusz and Piotr’s mother, but it is never really spelled out. Marek is left by himself most of the time, and spends it photographing everything, and pining for Maria (Elisa Lasowski).

Tomo (Thomas Turgoose, unforgettable in This is England), comes to the big city from the Midlands with little money and no real plan. He’s running away from a home life that he says offers him nothing. On his first night in town, he is beaten up and robbed by three young thugs. It’s the next day that he meets Marek, and their friendship slowly starts to come together.

Somers Town is a quiet movie, but one that is filled with life and humor. Tomo is left with only one track suit to wear, and when it gets ruined he is forced to steal a bag of cloths from the laundry mat. Unfortunately for him, the clothes appear to be those of an elderly couple, and he is stuck wearing and hilarious mismatched flowered blouse and checkered pants (“I feel like a female golfer” Tomo whines).

Like Meadows others films, the characters in this one are the margins of society. They are poor, and are struggling to get by with the day to day realities of their lives. The boys infatuation with Maria is just that – it is a fantasy that they cloak themselves in to get through the day. She is sweet and kind to them, but it’s clear to everyone (even, I suspect the kids somewhere in there), that they will never be more than just friends. But it doesn’t matter to them. The idea of Maria is more important than Maria herself.

Somer’s Town is quiet, beautiful little film. It shows Meadows going in a different direction than his last few films, while still maintaining the overarching themes in his work that make it so special. The film barely got a release in North America, but it is worth tracking down.

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