Director: Tony Britten
Cast: Christian McKay, Caroline Catz, David Troughton, Miles Jupp, James Wilby, Niamh Cusack
Watch ChickLit online in the UK: Amazon Instant Video
Fifty Shades of Grey has a lot to answer for. E.L. James’ best-selling erotic novel is the clear inspiration for this below-par British comedy from co-writer / director Tony Britten, though, sadly, not in the way you might think. Indeed, the film’s misleading title (it’s not about what we commonly think of as “Chick Lit” at all) is entirely indicative of the fact that it seems pathologically afraid to actually get to grips with its subject matter.
Set in the picturesque village of Holt in North Norfolk (you can practically hear Alan Partridge on the radio), the film focuses on four middle-class male friends – local rag editor David (Christian McKay), bookseller Marcus (Miles Jupp), English teacher Justin (David Troughton) and young publican Chris (Tom Palmer) – who like nothing better than a game of dominoes in their local pub of an evening. When said boozer is threatened with closure, the quartet hit upon the idea of writing an erotic Fifty Shades-style potboiler, inspired by the fact that seemingly every woman in the village is avidly reading She Came in Chains, the latest “mummy porn” novel by Lydia Lovemore.
Acting in complete secrecy (there’s a lot of tedious business involving the exchanging of plain brown envelopes), the foursome quickly bash out their novel – entitled Love Let Her – and soon find themselves with a publishing deal, courtesy of literary agents Peggy Law and Francis Bonar (Eileen Atkins and John Hurt, both of whom you suspect are boozing for real in their bring-out-the-champagne scenes). However, none of the men want to put their name to the book, so David enlists his aspiring actress niece Zoe (Dakota Blue Richards) to pose as the author, but as demand for the book hots up, their literary hoax rapidly spirals out of control.
The film starts off as a potentially intriguing spin on The Full Monty, with four men forced into doing something uncomfortable in order to save something they care about. However, the script quickly abandons that idea, replacing it with a lacklustre romance between Zoe and Chris and a series of increasingly annoying scenarios, none of which have any grounding in reality (we’re supposed to believe that an entire movie is shot and released within the space of a few months, for example).
This might have raised a few silly giggles if the script had been prepared to actually tackle its concept of four fuddy-duddies attempting to write erotica, but the filmmakers seem positively terrified of anything even mildly titillating, so you don’t get so much as a sentence of Love Let Her. In addition, most of the jokes fall painfully flat and the plotting is all over the shop, with the script never really sure of what it wants to achieve.
The actors do their best, ploughing through the cringe-inducing dialogue with admirable good grace – Miles Jupp, in particular, is especially good value, displaying some adept comic timing and getting some laughs, although you strongly suspect he wrote all his own jokes, as he gets an “additional material” credit. However, Dakota Blue Richards feels miscast as Zoe and falls into that common trap of low budget movies where the actor playing an actor isn’t as good of an actor as the script requires in the ‘acting’ scenes.
On top of all that, the film is further let down by glaringly cheap production values, including lighting that’s so bright that it actually gives you a headache. One to avoid.
Photo: Capriol Films