Duane Hopkins / UK / 2008
What an incredibly dull film. If this is the great white hope for British Film in 2008, as a work by one of the new UK filmmakers who made it to Cannes with a feature, then we’re all in trouble. A bunch of uninspired characters potter about their emotionally cluttered minefields of existence with only a little hardcore drug abuse to enliven things. It might be Kidulthood for the high brow crowd. That is a little unfair though given the technical prowess on display here that occasionally emerges to make Better Things, well, just a little better.
One couple break-up and the guy won’t let go. One couple adore each other nearly as much as they adore class ‘A’ drugs. Another guy acutely misses his girlfriend who had an overdose. An old couple bicker over the fault line in their relationship (a years old indiscretion) and a more normal teen struggles over not being able to leave her house. On the plus side here is a “yoof” film that actually vies to have a little emotional depth. These are mainly one-tone vignettes of relationships between various people, mainly young but with the odd old person thrown in for counterpoint. The emotional truth of all this is intense and equilateral but very very boring. The characters gel very little and these are mostly separate stories which poorly interact, either physically or thematically.
Back to the better. The technique and camerawork is top notch. Frequently the film looks and sounds absolutely gorgeous. Indecently so for a debut. Every so often something impressive emerges from the mess of storylines. Tweak the subject matter a little or fine tune it and a future film by Hopkins might be great. Just not this one. Several of the devices used, spotlight the characters sublimely even for a moment making this reviewer give a damn about them. One way is by using these floods of light. A character by a window for example becomes overwhelmed in white light. Or it’s also done by manipulating the soundscape. Two characters drive along in a car speeding down some country lane only for the loud road noises to drop out totally from the soundtrack. We are suddenly left with just the sounds of the two guys in the car so that a particular exchange between them can be heard. It’s a touching moment brought to the fore between two young men who you wouldn’t normally think would have some way of interacting intimately and emotionally without resorting to each calling the other “gay”.