Festival (18)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byMatthew Turner13/07/2005

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 107 mins

Festival is written and directed by Annie Griffin, the writer-creator of TV’s The Book Group, with which it shares both a similarly dark sense of humour and a penchant for unexpected tragedy. The effect is that you’re never sure whether to laugh or cry, though there are some undeniably funny moments.

The Plot

The film is set, unsurprisingly, during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and follows the actions and interactions of a dozen different characters, some of whom are more interesting than others.

Britain’s favourite TV comedian Sean Sullivan (Stephen Mangan) arrives as a reluctant judge for the Comedy Awards and has no qualms about bedding ambitious comedienne Nicky (Lucy Punch), despite the fact that she’s in contention for the award. Meanwhile, nine-year veteran Tommy O’Dwyer (Chris O’Dowd) is surprised when his half-hearted seduction of feisty radio reporter (and Comedy Awards judge) Joan Gerard (Daniela Nardini) pays off.

Other characters include: Faith Myers (Lyndsey Marshall), a sweetly naïve girl who wastes no time in handing out flyers for her one-woman show on Dorothy Wordsworth, only to discover that her time-slot has been changed without her knowledge; venue manager Brother Mike (Clive Russell), whose own one-man show doesn’t prove as cathartic as he’d hoped; Sullivan’s long-suffering PA Petra (Raquel Cassidy); and a post-natally depressed well-to-do woman (Amelia Bullmore) who rents her flat to three spaced-out Canadian actors and finds herself falling for one of them.

There’s a pleasing semi-documentary feel to the film, aided by the fact that Griffin was given permission to film during last year’s festival, interspersing actual footage of street performers and allowing her actors to interact with actual festival-goers (e.g. Marshall handing out her flyers). The downside of that is that the structure is a little too fluid and rambling for its own good – Marshall’s story, for example, doesn’t go anywhere interesting, while the Canadians are particularly underwritten.

The Performances

The performances, from a host of familiar TV faces, are extremely good, particularly O’Dowd, whose perpetual hang-dog expression is funny enough on its own and Nardini, whose tough, no-nonsense exterior masks an unfulfilled home life. There’s also good work from both Stephen Mangan (hilariously obnoxious) and Raquel Cassidy (from Teachers), whose position as a recovering alcoholic is threatened by the fact that the emotionally-retarded Sullivan’s behaviour is enough to turn anyone to drink.

There’s definitely a ring of truth to the script, as if Griffin has based the story on several real-life experiences. There are also some delightful surprises, such as the audience reaction to the Canadians’ act.

The Problems

Unfortunately, the film has been slapped with an 18 certificate thanks to a couple of gags that occur during unnecessarily explicit sex scenes (one involving a Boogie Nights-style prosthetic appendage); on reflection, it probably wasn’t worth sacrificing the lower rating for the laughs, although both scenes provide effectively shocking moments and one of them will make you view ventriloquists in a whole new light.

The Conclusion

In short, Festival is never less than watchable, though the comedy elements are definitely more successful than the melodramatic sections. Also, the explicit content pretty much guarantees that it won’t show up on TV anytime soon, so catch it while you can.

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Content updated: 14/12/2017 04:04

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