Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Pride

Directed by: Matthew Warchus

Produced by: David Livingstone

Screenplay by: Stephen Beresford

Starring: Ben Schnetzer
George MacKay
Freddie Fox
Faye Marsay
Dominic West
Andrew Scott
Paddy Considine
Bill Nighy
Imelda Staunton
Jessica Gunning

Music by: Christopher Nightingale

Cinematography by: Tat Radcliffe

Editing by: Melanie Oliver

Studio(s): BBC Films
Calamity Films

Distributed by: Pathe

Release date(s): May 23, 2014 (Cannes Film Festival)
September 12, 2014 (United Kingdom)
September 26, 2014 (United States, limited)

Running time: 120 minutes

Country: United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: N/A

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $7, 008, 058

Well, in case you can't tell, I've been busy on the reviewing front over the past few days (just a bit), which I'd like to attribute entirely to good productivity, some of which it is, but frankly it's also down to just needing to get the stuff done. After all, I just posted there three weeks into October my review for the months of August/September, so that gives you an idea of how backed up I am. However, that hasn't stopped me being busy on the reviewing front, for along with this, I have guaranteed reviews for Dracula Untold, The Equalizer and Ida coming up, and now doubt there will be others in the mix as well. With that being said, for all the latest and greatest as regards to the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is Pride, the second feature film from Matthew Warchus. Best known for his work in the theatre, having collaborated with the likes of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Welsh and English National Opera(s), and has just this May succeeded Kevin Spacey as the creative director of The Old Vic Theatre Company, Warchus is on something of a career high right now. Unlike his first film, an adaptation of Sam Shepherd's play Simpatico, Pride has been critically acclaimed, done well at the box-office and been notably well received in the gay community, also winning the Queer Palm in the Directors' Fortnight of this year's Cannes Film Festival. The only controversy surrounding the film has been that of the rating issue in the United States, in that it has been given an R-rating, meaning that no one under the age of seventeen can see the film, and I do think the LGBT community have a right to be outraged. LGBT activist Peter Tatchell made a pertinent point, commenting "There's no significant sex or violence in Pride to justify strong ratings. The American classification board seems to view any film with even the mildest gay content as unfit for people under 17." Indeed, this opinion is backed up by Ian Burrell, who wrote an article for The Independent (which I will put a link to at the bottom of this review) detailing similarly how MPAA recently gave Love Is Strange, a drama about a gay Manhattan couple, an R-rating, as they did with gay-themed GBF, yet strangely over twenty years ago the Tom Hanks Oscar-winner Philadelphia received a PG-13 rating. What got me interested was that I am a strong supporter of the LGBT community, a straight ally who sees it as everybody's right to love whomever they please, regardless of gender, creed, religion and/or sexual orientation. However, as with other movies I go into with strong feelings, I have to remember to review the picture objectively. Okay, plot synopsis: based on a true story, Pride depicts a group of lesbian and gay activists who see an affinity with their struggle and that of the miners in 1984's Britain, and start up a group called Lesbians And Gays Support The Miners. When the National Union Of Mineworkers refuses to accept their donations, they instead take their donations to a small mining village in Wales, striking up an unlikely alliance between the two very different peoples of these communities. Got it? Good!

The first and foremost important thing that I'd like to say about Pride is the way in which the central characters are approached. Granted, I do have to admit I have an agenda on this matter, but if there's one thing I can't stand in contemporary comedy is the 'gay scare' outlook that they have homosexual characters. Actor Stephen Beresford, with his debut screenplay, writes no tropes, no gay-be's, no high-pitched screaming friends who live across the hall or stupid cardboard cutouts representing the gay community. Here, everyone, regardless of creed, race, religion or sexual orientation is on equal terms, and while it most certainly did not shy away from some of the harder material (the mining town's views of the LGSM group is the source of much tension), it is refreshing to see people of all types be treated equally with the same cadence and candour. It makes me shudder to think what would this film would have looked like in America done by Adam Sandler or someone of that ilk. Beresford's dialogue too is sharp, witty, full of inside jokes as pertains to LGBT culture and at many times had me laughing out loud, as it did the large part of the audience in the theatre. There's a line of dialogue near the start of the film when during a Gay Pride march a group of our main characters argue over carrying a banner, and one of them suggests "Give it to the lesbians, they love a banner!," and I thought "right, okay, they've got me, I'm interested." Very often, comedies try to be witty and oftentimes end up sounding like they're forcing out dialogue, leaving a little audible gap as though to say "okay folks, this is where you laugh," but here, it's genuinely punchy and snappy. The central cast, comprised of a combination of young talent and seasoned veterans, are uniformly strong. I think that the standout performance of the film belongs to Ben Schnetzer, who plays the de facto leader of the group Mark Ashton. Schnetzer fills the boots of this role with palpable credibility, not only being able to keep up with the dialogue but also being to convey with enough strength and conviction of this activist group being his brainchild. He's charismatic, energetic and also makes the character three-dimensional enough so it's not just a cult of personality. Schnetzer's Ashton has his own doubts and anxieties, and when the character goes through them, Schnetzer makes us want to see our rock pull through. Also, the strongest of the supporting cast were Paddy Considine and Bill Nighy as Dai Donovan and Cliff respectively. I think it is indicative once again of Considine's acting talents this Englishman from Staffordshire is able to be so chameleonic as to convince us of his legitimacy as a middle-aged little Welshman. Even though it's a supporting role he completely inhabits the part. Nighy too, who also masters a more soft-spoken form of Welsh dialect appropriate to the character, gives a sweet sort of poignancy to the awkward but well-meaning part of Cliff. Also on good form in the supporting cast are Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, George MacKay and Jessica Gunning, who as the future Member of Parliament for Swansea East Sian James is a revelation and potential future star in the making. Pride was also a well-shot film by Tat Radcliffe, and the music by Christopher Nightingale was good, as was the soundtrack of licensed tracks, though I must confess to laughing at a private joke as to whether or not Frankie Goes To Hollywood were going to show up (no points for guessing which one!). Finally, director Matthew Warchus, who although more experienced as a director in the theatre world, brings his tricks of the trade over to film, and delivers us a perfectly fine, entertaining piece of comedy. It's the kind of movie that deserves to have a good solid release, because, although it sounds patronising the way I put it, it's an easy sell and a real crowd-pleaser.

However, while you can tell that I liked Pride a lot, there are a couple of issues that deny it from a great movie in my opinion. As I said there at the conclusion of the last paragraph, it's an easy sell, which is both to it's praise and detriment. While it doesn't shy away from some of the homophobia the characters and people in the gay community would have suffered in mid-1980s Thatcherite Britain, I still feel that I doesn't dig as deep or is as provocative or challenging as other gay-themed films such as, say, last year's masterpiece Blue Is The Warmest Colour, which for me is perhaps the definitive 'gay' film and in it's admittedly long three-hour running time explored every aspect of a gay relationship (although, being straight I'm sure my opinion is considered 'clouded' by some), or Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain. Also, much as I was high on the characters, dialogue, and tonal approach taken to the LGBT community, I think that we mustn't forget that the central plot could for intents and purposes been lifted from a bunch of other movies, all of which feature society's rejects (in this case, rejects of the precursor of today's so-called 'Big Society,' the masquerading louts) and down-and-outers banding together all in the cause of the greater good and a dream. Ultimately, as well as it is done, it cannot be forgotten that we get the same feel-good subject matter, a sort of coming-of-age story (especially for audience stand-in Joe, a closeted homosexual who represents the audience venture into this alien, weird and wonderful world), but with a bit of the working-class flavour of The Fully Monty and Billy Elliot, which can of course be traced back to the 1950s/1960s with John Osborne's Look Back In Anger and films like Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, This Sporting Life, Alfie and Kes. As I mentioned, it's done well, but in different incarnations, it has still been done before.

Despite those reservations as regards to the film, for all intents and purposes, being a retread of similar waters we've waded through several times before, Pride is still a very good, entertaining film. The cast, in particular, Ben Schnetzer, Paddy Considine and Bill Nighy are on fine form, actor Stephen Beresford's debut screenplay is for the most part a triumph, with engaging characters and is a comedy that is full of genuine wit and a good ear for dialogue. Finally, while this can also be attributed to director Matthew Warchus, who brings his tricks of the theatrical trade over to film, I admired how the film treated the subject (and subjects) with decency and respect. By no means is it a politically correct movie (anything overly-PC, let's face it, equates to watching paint dry), but it's an open-minded movie, balancing a fine line tonally. While nothing great, this is a real crowd-pleaser that should go down well with audiences.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.9/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Bangin' (as in dead on, as in cool, etc...)

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