Dir/scr: Justin Edgar. UK. 2007. 78mins.
Few films successfully negotiate the tricky expansion from short to feature but Special People is a happy exception. Justin Edgar's adaptation of his 12 minute 2005 short builds on the original material without diluting any of its sharp humour and also provides a deeper sense of the characters and their lives.
The story of a film-maker working with a group of disabled teenager is used to create a well-observed tale with a big heart. The result is very likeable but also very modest although some enterprising distributor should be able to carve a theatrical presence for the title within the UK market and further extensive festival exposure seems guaranteed.
One of the strengths of Special People is the way it makes use of improvisation without turning that into an excuse for rambling self-induglence. This is a very disciplined piece of work with the kind of trim running time that leaves audiences wanting more.
Dominic Coleman stars as Jasper, a pretentious, patronising film-maker with his heart in the right place. Proud of his social realist short Koncrete Dreamz, he eagerly accepts the challenge of helping a group of three disabled teenagers to make their own film. Surly Jess (Frampton), eager aspiring auteur Scott (Proud) and curmudgeonly delinquent Dave (Maza) regard Jasper with a mixture of pity and resentment especially when it becomes clear that the project is more about furthering his ambitions than serving their needs.Events come to a head during a chaotic trip to the countryside to shoot their mini-masterpiece.
Devoid of sentimentality, Special People has a nice line in sarcastic humour as they teenage trio are only too happy to prick the pomposity of their self-appointed guru. Edgar seems to relish the opportunity to lampoon some of the more pretentious members of the film community. ' We're not making stuff up, ' Jasper sternly claims. ' We're modulating reality.' In its own way, Special People is doing exactly what Jasper claims as every disabled character is played by a disabled actor. There are strong elements of true life experiences, attitudes and prejudices incorporated into an accessible and often very funny film that invites viewers to look beyond the wheelchairs and see the people in them.
Edgar also proves himself able to bring out the best in his cast. David Proud captures all the enthusiasm and cheeky charm of Scott, Robyn Frampton is suitably prickly as Jess and Jason Maza turns Dave into a loveable rogue with more complexity than one might have initially imagined. Special People has a rare generosity of spirit towards its characters and even Jasper proves to be fairly sympathetic and decent.
A low-budget production with an aesthetic that serves the story rather than showcasing the virtuosity of an auteur director, Special People has a light touch that is very welcome and enough commendable qualities to connect with a mainstream audience.
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