While we’re all getting into a patriotic froth over The King’s Speech, and the hefty sum granted to its production by the soon to be defunct UK Film Council, perhaps it’s best to see where else its money is going.
Out this week is Chalet Girl, a British comedy that was boosted by a £800,000 stimulus from the UKFC. Like Tom Hooper’s awards-winner, it is fiercely British, and casts its gaze over one of the nation’s pet obsessions, class.
Bright young thing Felicity Jones stars as Kim, a grungy teen whose promising career as a professional skateboarder is put on hold after the untimely death of her mother. Stuck in a dead-end job, at Chicken Cottage, no less, Kim must scrounge in order to support her grieving father (Bill Bailey), and puts her name forward for a plush catering job in the Alps, living with an upper class family for the summer. While navigating from one faux pas to another, the working class girl develops a rapport with posh dreamboat, Jonny (Ed Westwick), and spots a potential way to change her life completely, by competing in an international snowboarding event.
The script, penned by newcomer, Tom Williams, tries incredibly hard to please, stuffing every scene with sight gags, cheap gags, physical gags, broadly caricatured characters and plenty of fish out of water gags. Few hit home, but thanks to a pleasant cast, it isn’t entirely offensive. Bill Nighy provides his salary’s worth as Jonny’s quirky, feline father, while Tamsin Egerton, as Kim’s colleague, Georgie, manages to maintain something of a comic composure while delivering god-awful jokes about Facebook.
Felicity Jones is an absolutely delightful screen presence, even if her natural, pretty charm isn’t an easy fit for Kim’s supposedly uncouth, tomboyish personality. On a basic level, the character seems to have been misconceived, with her snarky, sarcastic witticisms being as overwritten as her cluelessness in the face of upper class life is unconvincing. That said, she nevertheless stands out among most young female leads by having a passion that isn’t simply the pursuit of romance. Even if her skill is never doubted and her mastery of snowboarding is remarkably breezy (a short montage should do the trick), her desire to win challenges the usual gender stereotypes for such cinematic fluff.
However, in all other cases, Chalet Girl overstretches itself, attempting to bring together themes of loss, class and aspiration into such a blithely vapid romantic comedy concept. The result is rather trite, with its most human, emotional aspects shaped into predictable narrative devices.
Kim and Jonny’s class divide could easily be replaced by any sort of complicating factor from the flock of will they-won’t they romantic tales that precede this one. And to transform the lingering trauma of the car crash which killed her mother into Kim’s stumbling block, preventing her from achieving snowboarding success, is a remarkably callous creative decision.
Like The King’s Speech, Chalet Girl doesn’t manage to nail anything down regarding the British obsession with class, both favouring to bring two differing backgrounds together, and see the lower sort ruffle the feathers of the upper class until both find a middle ground.
In Chalet Girl‘s case, it is a little more troubling, especially as the long, doting shots of the Alps are less than subtle advertisements for an expensive kind of holiday that would presumably lie outside of a character like Kim’s reach, if she were real.
It is this conflict, between cynicism and ambition, that begins to define Chalet Girl. And with its product placement, perfectly-pitched soundtrack of recent pop rock tunes, and cameos from T4 presenters, it isn’t hard to guess which side won out.
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