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STUDIO: Spirit Level Films
RUNNING TIME: 88 Minutes
• Director/Cast commentary
• Cast auditions
"It’s Jackass meets Saving Silverman, with all the heart of Stand By Me. God, that sounds like an awful movie. Let’s just say it’s like Ricky Gervais in a younger generation. At least the Americans won’t care."
Andy Serkis (King Kong, The Lord of the Rings),
A club of fun-time boys approaching their thirties, led by Spider (Serkis), begins to dissolve in the wake of Spider’s engagement to a girl named Annie. As a present, Spider’s best friend Des starts to compile a documentary about all the fun they had when they didn’t worry about chicks or jobs. It doesn’t take long for the project to go sour, though, as perennial jackass Des uncovers the truth about their Jolly Boys club: just about everyone is tired of their college-era pranks and benders. Everyone wants to grow up, and the friendships that they thought they had find very little room for survival amid the compromises of adulthood.
Did you know they swing with the wrong end of the club in England? S’truth.
The conceit of Jolly Boys isn’t a hard one to swallow. Des takes his camcorder around, letting people record their well-wishes for Spider and Annie. The project gradually morphs into Des’ personal crusade to show Spider why he’s a fool for getting married, and from there becomes a sort of video diary of Des’ somewhat impotent schemes and self-reflections.
In other words, its not exactly a plot-based flick. It moves with at an easy pace from the antics of the Jolly Boys, to the stresses of engagement, to the disintegration and reformation of friendships, and all hitched firmly to Des’ believable personality. Milo Twomey deserves recognition for his performance as the British equivalent of a frat boy who never grew up; he’s funny, angry, sympathetic, and, most importantly, natural.
What I’ve described of the story so far doesn’t sound much like a comedy, unless you’re into that whole "comedy is tragedy plus timing" equation. And, really, Jolly Boys is a comedy more in the tradition of Wes Anderson than David Zuckerman — a mix of pathos and irreverence that doesn’t necessarily mirror life, but is close enough to our fantasies of how life should be that we don’t really notice. When it’s funny it’s never gut-bustingly so, because those kinds of jokes generally need more preparation than real life affords. Instead, it’s that kind of "Hey, I heard this one story" humor that plays well in a group of friends, and, as luck would have it, to a film audience who likes feeling as if they’re part of the in-crowd.
For as successful as the film is with its humor, it’s doubly so with the drama. There is a natural elegance to the balance between the two genres. Sometimes, they feel as if they’re playing tug-of-war, but sometimes they’re intertwined. The film is most successful in the latter cases, when the characters don’t separate the humor from the rest of their lives. The best example is the stag weekend that Des and the other Jolly Boys take Spider on, prior to his wedding day. Events conspire to put everyone on edge, and a trip that should have been boisterous, juvenile, and soaked in alcohol instead functions as the boys’ feeble clutching at a part of the lives that can’t be resurrected. It’s embarrassing and sad, yet played with a note of desperation that sells the few bitter jokes perfectly.
The acting all around is impressive, with Twomey and Andy Serkis leading the charge with aplomb. In the aftermath of the stag weekend, the friendships between the Jolly Boys really begin to fall apart, and believably so. The meat of the story is in the melancholia of childhood friends realizing that their relationships as adults require more and different effort to sustain. The Jolly Boys were friends in the common bond of juvenalia, but, one by one, they’re growing up. The audience is interested in which ones will discover new things to root their friendships in, and which ones will let the past lie down and die.
There are forty-eight men in this picture. Only two of them can be seen.
When Des finds a new path for his friendship with Spider, the revelation comes a bit too abruptly. It’s exactly what the audience hopes for — their sympathies having been thrown in with hapless Spider and jilted Des — but it leaves the distinct impression that there should have been more of a journey. The reversal in Des’ character that brings about the conclusion is smoothed over by Twomey’s acting, but could have been written with a bit more depth.
Fortunately, the emotion of the last few minutes escapes the slight stumble unscathed. This isn’t a movie that descends to false sentimentalism, but it would be a mistake to say it avoids sentiment entirely. From Spider’s wedding on through the credits, there is a sweetness to the characters and their interactions that feels natural and, best of all, earned.
The Jolly Boys Last Stand is a careful blend of the real and the fantastic inasmuch as each applies to mundane life. From time to time, it seems more drama than comedy, but it never misplaces its identity. As it turns out, I’m fine with calling this a comedy because, like good Victorian lit, it ends with a marriage. God bless British sensibilities.
Just so you know the reviewer isn’t the only pretension associated with this film:
Art School Film Clips!
Following the convention of the film’s conceit, the audio and video are pretty much high-end camcorder quality. Much of the camera work is handheld, and suffers from the lack of audio and video clarity as a result. The video never sinks as low as Blair Witch levels, however, so it’s only the audio that might trouble some viewers. Some dialogue/effects seem clearly edited in during post-production, and sound out of place, and a few of the actors’ lines get swallowed up by ambient noise.
There are only a couple of bonuses, but they’re both good ones. The cast and director provide a funny, friendly commentary on the feature, full of enough British-isms to make an uncultured yank feel like a native speaker. The processes of evolving the characters and writing/filming the story are touched on, with some funny and charming anecdotes. It may not be the most informative, but it has plenty of personality.
You also get a series of cast auditions, which are gloriously unintelligible, thanks to the unique patois of the actors. They’re not reading lines, but instead spontaneously creating characters having relationship arguments. It’s fun to watch how quick on their feet the actors are.
7.8 out of 10