Sunday, 19 July 2015

Goodbye Charlie Bright (2001)

No doubt about it, Nick Love is something of a joke to many film buffs. Taking the mockney stylings made popular by Guy Ritchie in the late 90s, Love soon found - and remained - in his groove; producing obnoxious films littered with phrases like ''Nah, 'e's muggin' you off mate, the slaaaag'' and, irritatingly, Danny Dyer. Worse, his pretensions to become the Cockney Scorsese made his efforts laughable.

But Goodbye Charlie Bright, his debut in 2001, was praised in many quarters and Love was marked out as being a director to watch. So what went wrong?

Well to be fair to Love his Scorsese ambitions were there from the very start; Goodbye Charlie Bright wears its Mean Streets influence clearly on its sleeve with Paul Nicholls as the titular Charlie Bright realising over the course of one decisive and momentous summer that his lifelong mate Justin (Roland Manookian) is a no good and somewhat unhinged chancer holding him back. As well as these shades of Scorsese's Charlie and Johnny Boy, Love also seems to owe a debt to Spike Lee and specifically Do The Right Thing, which this effort occasionally seems to want to emulate. 

The setting is a down at heel London council estate which our group of teenage youths (Nicholls and Manookian, Alexi Rodney, Sid Mitchell and the inevitable appearance of Danny Dyer - although mercifully he's not in it all that much) reside in, trying to liven up the long hot summer days by thieving and pranking. But it isn't long before they push their luck too far and violent ramifications lie in wait just around the corner.

A problem with Goodbye Charlie Bright is that it's difficult to care all that much for the characters as they are written on paper. Anyone who has been on the wrong end of having their bag pinched or their car window smashed in for the stereo will know it's not fun or funny, yet the script seems compelled to depict these actions as little more than larkish japes for these loveable lads. For a viewer its clear that Justin is a prat and, in that respect the film does its job, but his friends look similarly idiotic too. Thankfully Paul Nicholls does manage to inject some natural charm into his performance in the lead role, which isn't all too apparent in the script itself. This charisma at least convinces us when his character realises he's drifting through life and needs to make a change away from here.

But to understand the kids perhaps we have to look to the previous generation, and the behaviour and attitudes of the older characters in the film would certainly explain why these lads seem like such a dead loss. These roles afford some great British actors - many of whom were, in the 80s and 90s, playing similar roles that the young stars have here - some effective scenes and bolster Love's debut with a series of impressive cameos; Jamie Foreman is a country and western dreamer, David Thewlis is Charlie's rather feckless estranged father, Frank Harper is a former squaddie who has brought his own son up to follow in his footsteps and Phil Daniels, perhaps best of all, is another squaddie whose Falklands experience have made him the neighbourhood loony and drug dealer. Even Richard Driscoll's character, the only one to have broke out from the estate, getting a foot on the social ladder and mixing with the Sloaneys, is a poor role model, essentially being little more than a mouthy berk desperately trying to be hip to all men.

Has Love failed to capitalise on the potential many saw in this debut? I guess it's a matter of taste. His subsequent films may have become formulaic and tiresome but they also became more technically proficient. To my mind Love's debut was perhaps the most innocuously likeable film he has ever made.

Oh and whatever happened to Dani Behr? The former presenter of The Word who was simply everywhere in the 1990s pops up here as a potential love interest and a sign that there's another life out there for Charlie. Her appearance took me by surprise, haven't seen her for ages and a quick Google search tells me she's now a real estate agent in LA. Go figure, as she might now say.

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