Dir: Debbie Isitt. UK.2006. 100mins.
A good-natured but uneven farce, Debbie Isitt's Confettipokes fun at the marriage industry, using a mockumentarystructure borrowed from Christopher Guest's BestIn Show - but with engaged couples instead of dogsin the limelight. Meanwhile, the deadpan humour and low-key acting style aredistinctively British, with a cast that includes actors from several of theUK's most popular comedies (AlanPartridge, The RoyleFamily and The Office amongthem.) There are also obvious nods to Mike Leigh, not least because the film isimprovised and features the redoubtable Alison Steadman, who has featured inLeigh's work from Abigail's Party to Topsy-Turvy, in aprominent role.
At preview screenings in theUK, Confetti has received anenthusiastic response from audiences who have warmed to its rough and readycharm. Some of the gags may be feeble, but others work well enough and Isitt is providing an antidote to glossy British romantic comediesby showing the anguish, stress and family tension that go hand in hand with thegreat British wedding.
Like Guest in Best In Show,she somehow manages to make us care about her protagonists, however grotesquelythey behave. In amid the snobbery, hysteria and bad behaviour shown here, somevague idea of romance also manages to survive.
Having enjoyed bumpersuccess with such other British comedies as TheFull Monty and Bend It Like Beckham, Fox Searchlight took worldwidedistribution rights to Confetti atCannes last year. It will be hoping for brisk business when the film opens inthe UK on May 5, when it could well benefit as an astute piece ofcounter-programming against Tom Cruise action adventure Mission: Impossible III.
A strong home box-office performancemay help propel it overseas, although its main appeal is likely to remain withBrits, who'll recognise both the actors and Isitt'sstrain of sardonic humour.
The subject matter shouldcertainly provide more accessible to a general public than that explored inAnnie Griffin's equally caustic and freewheeling satire about the Edinburghfringe, Festival (a Britishbox-office failure despite enthusiastic reviews). Whatever happensinternationally, Confetti is bound toout-perform Isitt's previous feature, Nasty Neighbours (2000), which screenedat Venice before disappearing almost without trace in the UK.
As the action starts, themanagement at Confetti magazine -haughty editor Vivien (Felicity Montagu) andunctuous, venal publisher Antoni (comedian JimmyCarr) - are trying to boost sales by launching a "Most Original Wedding Of The Year" competition. Three couples areshort-listed, the prize for the eventual winners a sumptuous new home and theirfaces on the cover of the publication.
Professional weddingplanners Heron & Hough (Vincent Franklin and Jason Watkins), dead ringersfor British artists Gilbert and George, are entrusted with the task oforganising three lavish ceremonies that will be staged, back-to-back, in frontof judges.
Matt and Samantha (MartinFreeman and Jessica Stevenson) want their wedding to be like an old Hollywoodmusical, complete with chorus line and high kicks. Michael and Joanna (RobertWebb and Olivia Colman) are naturists, determined to take their vows in thebuff. Josef and Isabelle (Stephen Mangan and MeredithMacNeil) are impoverished yuppie tennis enthusiasts,who are looking for a Wimbledon theme.
Perhaps as a result of theimprovisation process, certain sequences - for instance, the initial selectionprocess - are flat and there is sometimes the sense that Isittis trying to score cheap laughs at the expense of the three couples. Josef andIsabelle, in particular, are portrayed as unremittingly obnoxious.
Nonetheless, Isitt hits the mark as often as she misses it. The jokes atthe expense of the naturists may be obvious, but they still work. "Youhave a really good game of badminton and you don't have to wash yourclothes," Michael argues in defence of a lifestyle that entails himdisrobing at every given opportunity.
Martin Freeman reprises hislikable everyman routine from Hitchhiker'sGuide To The Galaxy, trying to keep his calm inthe face of his domineering mother-in-law (Steadman) and a fianceewho is "phsyically dyslexic" and tone deaf.Mangan's tennis-obsessive is every bit as competitiveand petulant as the comedian he played in Festival.
The female characters sufferthe most: for example, Joanna reluctantly embracing the naturist lifestyle orIsabelle having cosmetic surgery just so she can improve her husband-to-be's chances of winning.
Almost inevitably, thefinale proves somewhat problematic as Isitt tries tomake the three wedding routines both preposterous and moving. At this point,the downbeat, naturalistic approach of the earlier scenes gives way to specialeffects and camera trickery as the three couples stage their weddings in kitschand extravagant fashion.
As a formal experiment, Confetti is onlypartially successful, nor does it have the slickness or polish of the bestimprovised comedies. At times, it makes exasperating viewing -but whenever itrisks losing audiences, Isitt invariably comes upwith another gag that works.
Screen West Midlands
David M Thompson