To cut a long story short: Amy Pond meets Haunted Jack Whitehall while Paul from The Fades does quips. Oh, and Haunted Jack Whitehall is French.
Karen Gillan’s first role to be released post-Pond is a pleasant, occasionally laugh-out-loud Scottish rom-com. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, pokes fun at genre clichés while also revelling in them, and employs popcorn logic cheerfully. It isn’t the most funny or romantic film ever made, and occasionally its screwball sensibilities are beyond the reach of its cast’s comic timing, but neither is it a charmless shrew-fest like so many of its kind.
Gillan plays Jane Lockhart, aspiring author, who finds her manuscript accepted by garrulous Frenchman Tom Duval (Stanley Weber, looking like he makes love exclusively on rugs by the fire). Through the medium of montage they enjoy redrafting the thinly-veiled story of Jane’s life, only to fall out when he changes the title without telling her. To never see him again, all she has to do is finish the second novel she was contracted for. Cue writers’ block.
The initial setup drags slightly, though once that’s out the way the film starts to find its feet quickly. David Solomons’ script has a few interesting ideas, but these remain largely unexplored in favour of quickfire wit set in a universe where everyone wears vintage fashion.
For example: Jane starts hallucinating the lead character from her second book, Darsie (Outcasts, Being Human, and Torchwood‘s Amy Manson, looking like a series of Vettriano paintings) but this is mainly as a source of jokes rather than any deep insights into writing or character. Some films would’ve taken this as a starting point for the entire story, whereas here it’s just another light touch, allowing the film to laugh at itself for indulging in contrived nudity and highlighting its male romantic lead’s traditionally immoral behaviour (rule #1 of being a male romantic lead: do what you want, you’re going to get laid anyway).
We have subplots involving Jane reconciling with her dad, and her signing for an unsubtle boo-big-evil-corporations!-type publisher. These mean that any closer examination of the tropes and unrealistic nature of rom-coms would push the film’s length into bum-numbing territory. With a writer as its protagonist (and a slightly confrontational title) Not Another Happy Ending has scope for meta-commentary, but pretty much just dips its toe into these waters, and then runs off to get an ice cream. Nuanced observations on the writing process are all very well and good, but they’re no ninety-nine flake.
Content just to be fun, the romance is uncomplicated, even with Jane in a relationship with a self-obsessed hack who is adapting her first novel into a film. To the film’s credit, it does make you think at times that she and Tom genuinely won’t get together, possibly to the point in evoking tears in people less dead on the inside than me.
The comedy aspect is patchy, but there are some good laughs to be had. There are also some subtle ones that might go over the heads of a wider audience. Tom’s assistant, Roddie (Iain De Caestecker, ex of The Fades, soon to be of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) gets most of the laughs, including in a seemingly improvised post-credits sequence, but look out for the title of the book he’s reading in the office. There’s also a subtle music gag in a scene where Tom breaks into Jane’s house in a misguided attempt to make her more miserable.
For a Scottish film, it presents Glasgow as upwardly mobile, but still a work in progress. For all its focus on the redeveloped Merchant City, it does show other parts of the city, including areas that are either run down or building sites. And I pretty much never expected to see Cambuslang on the big screen. Still, it is also guilty of the strange quirk of cinema that would have you believe that everyone in Scotland has access to a rural holiday cottage.
Overall, Not Another Happy Ending has enough going for it to overcome its weaknesses, and certainly felt more enjoyable than most of the charmless pish pumped out by the bigger studios, even if it’s not quite at the level of a Bill Forsyth movie.
Sit back, relax, ignore the predictable soundtrack (Sandi Thom is still making music for some reason), and enjoy the froth, the freakishly-well funded pub quiz, and Iain De Caestecker quietly winning the film.
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