Greetings again from the darkness. If most people realized how obnoxious they were as teenagers, we’d likely have far fewer folks opting to be parents. Actor-turned-director Simon Bird, in his first feature film, portrays the awkward, frustrating, and sometimes bitter relationship between a confused and directionless teenage boy and his divorced, well-meaning, single mom. The screenplay was written by Bird’s wife, Lisa Owens, and adapted from Joff Winterhart’s 2012 graphic novel.
Daniel (a terrific Earl Cave) is a 15 year old boy who is obsessed with heavy-metal music and resents pretty much everything else in life. He’s a droopy boy who can’t be bothered to shampoo his hair, and the only energy he expends is with snarky comments to his devoted mother, Sue (an outstanding Monica Dolan), who is clueless on how to connect with a son who bears little resemblance to the younger boy she fondly recalls raising. Sue is diligent with her work as a librarian, and tries to instill some ambition in Daniel by having his seek employment.
Daniel sinks into an even lower funk when the dad he worships cancels the boy’s much anticipated trip to Florida for a visit. Of course, Sue subtly points out that dear old dad may not be the best idol for her son, but those cautions fall on deaf ears. Instead, Daniel labels Sue, “the most boring person in the world”. Their time together is cringe-inducing, as Sue does her best to convince Daniel they can have fun, despite his disappointment.
The interesting aspect of the film is derived from its structure as a comedy, while the undercurrent of sadness and isolation is ever-present. Sue is thrilled when Douglas (Rob Brydon), a history teacher, asks her out on a date. At the same time, Daniel’s best (only?) friend Ky (Elliott Speller-Gillott) encourages him to pursue his dream as a front man for a local metal band … resulting in one of the film’s funniest and strangest segments. Neither Sue’s date, or the aftermath, nor Ky’s attempt to help his friend go according to plan.
Much of the soundtrack comes courtesy of Belle & Sebastian, and the uses of musical montages actually takes away from the otherwise realistic interactions between these characters. In addition to Brydon and Speller-Gillott, Alice Lowe has a welcome supporting role as Sue’s more socially-inclined sister, but this film belongs to Mr. Cave and Ms. Dolan. Most parents can relate to Sue’s challenges, and most adults who can be honest with themselves in retrospect, will likely recognize some of their own behavior in Daniel. The nuanced behavior and witty humor is handled well, and that deeper emotional level elevates the film for those who care to dig in.
Available in theatres, Virtual Cinema, and streaming platforms on February 19, 2021