Director: John Hardwick
Cast: Jonny Owen, Martin Freeman, Michael Socha, Matt Berry Vicky McClure
Watch Svengali online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Google Play
Dixie (Owens) is a postman from Wales with a dream of managing a legendary music group. How? He’s not experienced, he has no contacts. The answer? Sheer enthusiasm.
One day, he rushes to his girlfriend, Shell, after finding a band on YouTube. Convinced they’re going to be the next big thing, he takes her to the capital, where he runs around with a cassette tape and a Tesco bag, annoying the only other person he knows – an old mate called “Horsey” (Roger Evans).
Soon enough, Dixie’s persuaded the band to let him be their manager, hired a pub for a gig and got Alan McGee’s phone number. How? By smiling at people and being nice. It’s a laudable sentiment for this British film, based on writer/star Jonny Owen’s hit web series, but not one you end up sharing in.
Ostensibly a music comedy, Svengali’s main problem is that it’s not funny. There are occasional smirks to be had, but most of the jokes come out flat. Some excellent supporting actors do their best to inject some humour – Martin Freeman swearing as a record shop owner, Michael Smiley as “Irish Pierre” – but the script never hits the right key. Even when Matt Berry gets some good insults as a snide producer, he doesn’t deliver them in his usual accent, which takes away the humour.
As for the band themselves, The Premature Congratulations, they barely get a look in – although a few onstage scuffles try to introduce some conflict. Director John Hardwick shoots Soho and the rowdy concerts with a genial eye, but even with Owens and Vicky McClure’s natural chemistry, you struggle to believe that any of these people would ever get as far as they do. It feels more like a mixtape of stereotypes than an indie showstopper.
Compared to Good Vibrations, last year’s heartwarming tale of real life legend Terri Hooley, this one-track comedy is missing more than a few beats.
You’re left with a likeable main couple in a story that soon becomes tired and predictable. Owens deserves credit for his radiant lead performance, let alone the drive to turn his YouTube show into a feature. That sheer enthusiasm is infectious to start with. It soon wears off.
Svengali is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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