Dir. John McKay. UK.2004. 97mins.
John McKay's sophomorefeature Piccadilly Jim is one of those all-too common happenings incinema: a film that barely misses the mark when aiming at greatness, therebyinfuriating those who notice its failings and thus bringing the film down tothe level of 'having potential".
Adapted by Oscar winnerJulian Fellowes (Gosford Park) from the PG Wodehouse novel, PiccadillyJim is broadly funny in parts and displays several brilliant and inspiredbits of lunacy. Ultimately it will make for a mostly-enjoyable tease of anevening in the cinema or, more than likely, the living room.
A broad period piece of afarce, the pic features Americans in London and Brits in America, thus givingthe film-makers a chance to poke fun at both cultures and gives moviegoers thesame opportunities. With the (mostly) stellar cast and over-the-top humour, abright and fast-paced trailer should help drum up business. Audiences with lessof a knowledge of classic screwball comedy than cine experts or critics mayeven take Jim's antics as a superior example of the genre.
However, anyone who has seenHoward Hawks' Bringing Up Baby or is familiar with Wilde's comedy ofidentities The Importance Of Being Earnest will notice the flaws. Ofcourse, anyone accustomed to good acting might notice some as well.
Gags are both visual andverbal, so it's possible that the film will have some reach innon-English-language locales, although some of the jokes and 1930s-40s erapatter might have to be translated into lingo more fitting to the location ofthe screening. Cast alone ought to bring good ancillary returns in all formats.
The film focuses on James(Jim) Crocker, an American playboy living in London with his father (TomWilkinson), a failed British actor, and his social-climbing Americanstep-mother Eugenia (Allison Janney). Obscenely wealthy Jim, dubbed'Piccadilly Jim' by the London press, also lends his name to a gossipcolumn which is ghost-written by others.
Jim has a habit of throwinglavish parties at his mansion at the drop of a hat - or, as is the case whenthe film opens, to celebrate the birthday of a cat. Morning finds Jim's butlerBayliss (stoically portrayed by veteran British actor Geoffrey Palmer) wakingMaster James, in bed with three scantily clad young ladies, and calmly handinghis companions pre-printed cards directing them to the nearest bus stops andstations.
The opening sequence is alsoa showcase for what works well in the film, with the household staff dashingmadly, hither and yon, trying to put the house in a state fit to receive thehonoured guests expected for breakfast before Eugenia awakes.
The basic plot of the filminvolves Jim's attempt to woo a woman who loathes him despite never having methim. Of course that's far too simple for a proper farce, and to achieve therequisite number of slamming doors and misunderstandings, far more plot threadsneed to be pulled.
Frances O'Connor plays AnnChester, the American step-niece of Jim's step-mother's sister Nesta (anunnecessarily humourless Brenda Blethyn). Jim falls in love with Ann at firstsight - but hears her negative feelings about him before he can introducehimself.
As a result he pretends tobe the exact opposite of Piccadilly Jim, thinking that the reason Ann hates himis because of his wanton ways. So Piccadilly Jim becomes Algernon Bayliss(Wildean reference, anyone'), a teatotalling, god-fearing, polite young man.
Ann hates Jim because shethinks he criticised a book of her poetry through his column. Jim ends uppretending to be Bayliss pretending to be Jim, Jim's father winds up as Nesta'sbutler in New York and, of course, there's the bit about the Nazi spy with themonocle in the wrong eye.
This all works for most ofthe film, because hardly anyone in this bizarre family has ever met, bolsteredby strong acting and a few inspired comic set pieces.
Rupert Simonian, as Nesta'scorpulent and utterly despicable son, is a delight to watch, while Sam Rockwelland Tom Wilkinson fit their roles like gloves, although Wilkinson, as a downand out Brit who hates the upper class, might have worked better affecting amore working class accent when in private to show his true stripes.
The real problem is FranceO'Connor, butchering American English so much that at one point Rockwell's Jim remarks:'Why are you talking like Sam Spade'' Her performance is almost likeJean Hagen in Singin' In The Rain, if only in a lower register (and witha much higher IQ point). One can't help but wonder if an American actress wouldhave been able to tackle the role with fewer marbles in her mouth.
The overall look of the filmalso hits repeated sour notes. Seemingly uncomfortable with the story's 1930ssetting, McKay has apparently instructed his set and costume designers to pinchfrom sources as varying as art deco, Jean Paul Gauthier, modern concept cars, SaturdayNight Fever and Julien Temple's under-rated Absolute Beginners.
The result is somewhat hitand miss, bolstered by the decision to insert various glaring anachronisms.McKay's choice to have lounge singers croon period-style versions of TaintedLove and Love Will Tear Up Apart in two scenes is inspired, butaudiences will leave the theatre wondering why it wasn't a recurring theme.Other such attempts fall short, including the souped up 2005 concept carand1970s disco clothes and dance moves.
Technical specs are slick,with cinematographer Andrew Dunn and editor David Freeman both delivering finework.
Isle of Man Film