Run, Fatboy, Run

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: Slobbish security guard Dennis Doyle is going nowhere, and not just because he’s out of shape. Five years ago he left his pregnant fiancée Libby at the altar, and he’s regretted it ever since; so when Libby appears on the arm of a successful, fit American called Whit, he is spurred on to run a marathon. Just one niggling issue: the race is four weeks away and he’s never run properly in his life.

I’ll let you into a little inside-the-box secret: occasionally, in fact increasingly since I’ve had to (figuratively) go out and sing for my supper, I don’t get round to reviewing a film until a few days after I’ve seen it. Being a man who cares about the accuracy of what he says, I generally like to literally re-view the film, even if half of it is on fast-forward, to confirm my opinions; but with Run, Fatboy, Run (watched about three weeks ago) I’m pretty sure I can do the film justice without seeing it again. Hopefully, ever.

Simon Pegg is Dennis Doyle, an unfit, cigarette-addicted security guard for a tiny lingerie store, living in a dingy basement flat below his landlord Mr Goshdashtidar (Harish Patel) and only just scraping a living. Dennis’ life has been defined by his cowardice five years previously when he ran away from his own wedding and marriage to Libby (Thandie Newton), at the time carrying their son Jake (Matthew Fenton).

Although relations between them are amicable for Jake’s sake, there seems to be little chance of the couple giving it another go; and when suave American banker Whit (Hank Azaria) appears on the scene, all hope is lost. At least Whit appears to be a good guy, considerate towards Jake and super-fit, but that doesn’t stop Dennis from moaning about him to his friend and Libby’s cousin Gordon (Dylan Moran), a hopeless gambler in hock to a shady group of ‘friends’, including smalltime gangster Vincent (Simon Day).

Having been humiliated by Whit whilst trying to get Jake tickets for the Lord of the Rings musical (remember that?), Dennis resolves to prove himself to Jake and Libby by playing Whit at his favourite game – ironically, running. Gordon makes a potentially lucrative but fantastically dangerous bet with Vincent and backs Dennis to complete a marathon in London by coaching him, Mr Goshdashtidar providing extra, painful motivation; however, Whit takes the wind out of his sails by proposing to Libby in grand style on her birthday, and when it comes to the race itself, Whit will go to absolutely any lengths not to be outshone.

Run, Fatboy, Run employs a comedy formula that was quite entertainingly adapted for jobless Northerners in The Full Monty but was already horribly hackneyed by the time it was used in the boorish Beerfest. Not that it needs repeating, but here it is anyway: a lovable loser at a dead end has his inadequacies rubbed in his face by someone successful but psychologically flawed, who probably also has a place in the affections of our loser’s true love (there needn’t be a kid as well, but there often is). The loser decides he’s going to get himself into shape by challenging – at ho-ho-hopeless odds – his rival at the thing his rival does best; and even though there are setbacks, and the plucky loser may or may not succeed in the specific challenge, he will reveal his enemy’s flaw and succeed in both love and life, as he has learnt valuable life lessons just by rising to the challenge.

This being the case, it’s up to Michael Ian Black as writer, Pegg as actor and co-writer, and Friends star Schwimmer as director, to breathe life, energy and jokes into a potentially over-familiar tale. Unfortunately, the filmmakers are not up to this challenge and the result is a stale, predictable lump of a film. I’m a fan of Pegg, but neither his character nor those he has a hand in creating feel like they have any connection with real people, particularly British ones. Libby has very little motivation of her own, Gordon is a lazy combination of Moran’s standard persona and Rhys Ifans’ Spike from Notting Hill, and Whit reveals a nasty streak which is utterly predictable yet out of character with what we’ve seen of him previously.

Worse, most of the film’s jokes fail to rise above the juvenile, lacking the invention of Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz (the latter film was prepared to try things, even if they didn’t all come off). Instead, there’s a procession of groin rubbing, blister bursting, naked bottoms and swearing in English, Asian or children’s voices, all of which is okay for a brief chuckle but hardly a platform for a feature film.

As director, Schwimmer shows very little story-telling flair, resorting to flashbacks within a quarter of an hour, a by-the-numbers training montage and a thuddingly literal interpretation of the ‘wall’ that runners face. He also opts for a typical American realisation of the race, interpreted through TV pundits who are stiff as boards: Denise Lewis and Chris Hollins are hardly big stars, so why not invent some commentators with character?

He also has Libby and Jake jumping away from the over-the-top television coverage to be at the event, a touch owing more than a little to The Truman Show. Finally, there’s the ubiquitous and thoroughly obnoxious product placement which must have paid for a fair slice of the production costs but pervades to a distracting degree; if the idea is to mimic the flavour and colour of the real London Marathon, Schwimmer fails dismally by covering everything in a garish orange.

Actually, if I absolutely had to watch Run, Fatboy, Run again, it wouldn’t be a complete disaster. It has a few funny moments, though these are everything to do with Pegg, Moran and Azaria’s talents as comedians rather than anything the director or script can bring to the party. Watching it for a second time, I’d know exactly how it all pans out. Unfortunately, I had guessed to the last detail how it would pan out within five minutes of watching it for the first time.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

WFTB Score: 15/20

The plot: Uptight marketing executive Neal Page, desperate to fly from New York to Chicago for Thanksgiving, is thrown into company with slobbish shower curtain-ring salesman Del Griffith. The flight home curtailed, the two men endure each other’s company as they try to get back to their families by any means they can.

John Hughes, best known as writer of teen-centred movies like The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, here writes and sits in the director’s chair for a film focusing on two very different adults’ efforts to get back to Chicago in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. Although family is the core theme and motivation behind the story, giving the film something of the feel of updated Frank Capra, it wisely avoids showing too much of the family eagerly awaiting Daddy, concentrating instead on the tribulations of the mismatched travellers.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles is essentially a two-hander, pitting Steve Martin’s repressed achiever Neal Page against John Candy’s affable average Joe, Del Griffith. The two are chalk and cheese and most of the comedy comes not from the outlandish situations they find themselves in – though these are plenty funny – but the relationship they develop through the nightmare journey. At times content to rub along together, at others rubbing each other up the wrong way, Martin and Candy are chalk and cheese, and inspired casting. Martin explodes with apoplectic rage when the world doesn’t work exactly as it should; Candy rolls with the punches and, for a very good reason, lets nothing upset him. But more of that later.

From the start, Griffith gets in Page’s way, Del’s trunk causing Neal to lose a taxi to the airport. The flight they both ultimately get is re-routed and circumstances lead to both men staying in the same hotel room overnight. This whole scene sets the film up beautifully, as the pair first display their resentment towards each other, then cosy up unconsciously overnight. The reaction of the men to discovering their intimacy next morning (Martin: ‘Those aren’t PILLOWS!!’) is fondly remembered as a classic scene in film comedy.

The tortuous progress home contains a lot of laughs and not too much contrivance (the swapped credit cards and young burglar spring to mind), but one scene, at the car rental desk, sticks out as out of character with the rest of the film. Martin’s constant swearing when venting his suppressed fury at the desk clerk was something I had not seen before – the film is usually considered suitable for early evening broadcast, with this bit heavily edited – and the joke adds very little, in my opinion. If the rest of the film were like Trainspotting it would be entirely in context, but then it would be an entirely different sort of movie.

Anyway, it’s not all laughs. The tragedy behind Candy’s character is not that he will be late to see his family, but that he does not have a family to see, his beloved wife having passed away eight years previously. Hughes displays his skill as a writer in dropping clues throughout that lead the viewer and Neal to this discovery at about the same time; and it is a testament to John Candy that he conveys and conceals this sadness at the same time as, on the surface, coming across as a good-natured oaf.

It’s a triumph, too, that the story is resolved without dissolving into hopelessly mawkish sentimentality; and whilst schmaltz isn’t entirely avoided (would the Pages really welcome a stranger into their house with open arms?), none of the emotion is forced on the viewer, Martin and Candy showing restraint and honesty which marks them out as not only great comic actors, but good actors full stop. While the film is perfect viewing for ‘The Holidays,’ the two central performances make Planes, Trains and Automobiles a worthwhile experience at any time.

Gods and Monsters

WFTB Score: 12/20

The plot: James Whale, the revered, retired and increasingly frail director of the famous ‘Frankenstein’ films, looks back on his life and loves under the disapproving gaze of his severe housekeeper. His young gardener agrees to sit to be painted by Whale and is fascinated by the man, but remains unsure of his motives.

Bill Condon’s film, from Christopher Bram’s novel, is an intimate affair, focusing mainly on the last few weeks in the life of troubled film director James Whale (played by Ian McKellen). Whale has survived a tough, working-class English upbringing and the displeasure of his father to become a man of fine tastes and vision – he directed the first film version of Show Boat, after all – but all anyone really wants to know about, including a gauche young student who comes to interview him, is the schlocky Frankenstein films he turned out.

Naturally, this is the last thing Whale himself wants to discuss so he makes his own fun by making the poor young man strip (not that, as it happens, he particularly minds); however, when Whale suffers a stroke it becomes clear that he is seriously ill, and we find out that only strong medication is keeping his mind from being flooded with a hundred thoughts at once.

Despite his infirmity, Whale becomes interested in his gardener, an ex-marine called Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser). Boone is avowedly heterosexual yet the pair strike up an awkward friendship when Boone consents to be painted by the director. However, the portrait is destined never to be completed, either because Boone is freaked out by the old man’s lurid stories, or Whale is irritated by the youngster’s brashness. Overseeing them both is stern East European maid Hanna (Lynn Redgrave), who frets for her master’s soul as much as for the propriety of the goings-on within the house.

The description of the film as ‘intimate’ works on two levels: the film details both characters’ love lives closely, giving them and the viewer insights into both homosexual and heterosexual love; also, the film for the most part feels quite small, spent largely within Whale’s house, although there are occasional flashbacks to Whale’s life as a boy, as a soldier in the (so-called) Great War, and even a few recreations of the filming of Bride of Frankenstein, plus an entertaining visit to a party thrown by George Cukor and patronised by Princess Margaret, where Whale embarrasses the still-working (so still in the closet) director and faces his own monsters when brought face-to-face with Boris Karloff and other stars from his films.

As the film progresses, attempts are made to link the theme of Frankenstein with the director’s own predicament: ‘Alone: bad. Friend: Good.’ These are largely successful, and the tale Whale tells of his lover Barnett being snagged on barbed wire, his body visible for weeks after his death, is very moving, but it does mean that the film verges on being talky for much of its running time, concentrating on the characters’ feelings rather than their actions.

Accordingly, it is vital that the acting is of good quality and Ian McKellen is gloriously fruity as Whale, leering over young flesh with a keen eye whilst retaining the frailties of his situation. Redgrave is also excellent, and whilst Fraser is comparatively lumpy (his explanation about why he is a marine in name only fails to move as much as Whale’s stories) he does everything that is asked of him and is convincing enough when he finally rejects both Whale’s advances and his drastic request.

Gods and Monsters is a fine little film which tells a touching and finally tragic story of a man whose cult success overshadowed the films he regarded as his classics. As long as you don’t expect anything more of it, and as long as you realise exactly what you’re letting yourself in for, you are likely to find this both informative and enjoyable. Even if it’s not your thing, Sir Ian’s performance alone makes it worth a watch.

Carry On Emmannuelle

WFTB Score: 3/20

The plot: Emmannuelle Prevert, wife of the French ambassador to Britain, arrives to be with her husband only to find he is unwilling to make love to her. Luckily, she has willing replacements queuing up to provide satisfaction, and one admirer in particular who will go to any lengths to be with her.

Poor Carry Ons. At one time creators of beloved British comedies, by the late 1970s producer Peter Rogers’ and director Gerald Thomas’ fun-loving franchise had been supplanted, at least in the sauciness stakes, by the bawdy Adventures Of… and Confessions Of… series. Rather than rise above it all, Emmannuelle sees some venerable British actors parody European softcore porn (note the extra, lawyer-neutering ‘n’), dragging the whole Carry On series conclusively into the gutter, ignoring – as everyone should – 1992’s wretched Carry On Columbus.

It is not as if the idea is without potential, but writer Lance Peters has fashioned a script of such witlessness that the combined talents of Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims, Kenneth Connor and Jack Douglas are powerless to save it. From the start, where our heroine initiates terrified mummy’s boy Theodore Valentine into the mile-high club, raising the nose on Concorde, the whole film feels shoddy and cheap.

Williams has a horrible time as the French Ambassador. The plot requires that he should be unable to make love due to a naked parachuting accident, so instead he spends his time weightlifting. For this he spends an inordinate amount of screen time either naked or semi-naked, and whilst a naked Kenneth Williams was probably never an enthralling sight, and admitting that he looks okay for fifty-plus, it is an indictment of the film’s ghastliness that we should be faced with his bare bum for laughs. Sadly, no effort is made by the script to use his better-known talents and even his best line, ‘I’m completely bent!’ is something of an in-joke.

Suzanne Danielle does a fair job in the title role, displaying perhaps not the facial attractiveness of Sylvia Kristel but comfortable with the nudity asked of her. Unfortunately she is no comedienne, though you would defy anyone to raise many laughs with the role; this Emmannuelle is so nymphomaniacal as to be mentally unhinged, which must have been more funny peculiar than funny ha-ha even in 1978.

Once arrived in London, the film has no idea what to do with Emmannuelle, so sends her around the city pleasuring everyone she meets: the prime minister, a judge, the butler, a football team, the referee, so on and so forth; she is followed by the besotted Theodore (Larry Dann, emerging from small roles in previous films to be utterly boring here) who later ineffectually threatens blackmail. The only point of interest, really, is that he doesn’t have to follow her into a clap clinic.

When Emmannuelle or her husband are not naked, the time is filled by Sims, Douglas, Connor and Peter Butterworth as the Embassy staff, swapping unfunny memories or puerile dialogue (Beryl Reid pops up as Mrs Valentine but says nothing funny); even worse, there are ‘comedy’ appearances by such sitcom stereotypes as a mincing, effeminate poof and two (count ’em!) head-wobbling Indians, one of whom is a doctor who gets Williams naked (again) and solves all his sexual problems by getting the nurse to show off her tits. I would be more measured, but I am imagining the mindset of the writer who considers all that to be film-worthy comedy.

The film concludes with the ambassador announcing to his delighted, pregnant wife that he has swapped her Pill for fertility pills, the plan being that motherhood will make her faithful; cut to the maternity hospital with six babies and a room chock-full of potential fathers, all cheering Emmannuelle along. This just about completes the list: Carry On Emmannuelle is racist, homophobic, insulting to women, and – worst offence of all – never funny. None of the Carry Ons were particularly PC, and some were very patchy, but most were at least occasionally amusing. The bareness of this film in that respect and many others is a very sad send-off.

Carry On Abroad

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: A rag-tag group of holidaymakers head for sun, sangria and sauciness in the Spanish resort of Elsbels. Problem is, the hotel’s not finished, there’s hardly anyone to serve them, there’s nothing to see and even the weather doesn’t play along. No wonder even the saintly minds of men of the cloth turn to a bit of the other.

Crafty landlord Vic Flange (Sid James) is desperate to get away for a holiday, but that’s less to do with the hectoring of his wife Cora (Joan Sims) than the charms of regular punter Sadie Tomkins (Barbara Windsor). When Cora catches on that by impure coincidence Sadie, like Vic, is taking a trip to Elsbels, she insists on tagging along too, marching her husband down the travel agents to join the package holiday organised by rep Stuart Farquhar (Kenneth Williams) and his leggy assistant Miss Plunkett (Gail Grainger).

Also climbing on board are good-time girls Lily and Marge (Sally Geeson and Carol Hawkins), one of whom catches the eye of would-be monk Brother Bernard (Bresslaw). The frisky mood of the party is taken up by frustrated husband Stanley Blunt (Kenneth Connor), who later takes a shine to Cora because his wife Evelyn (June Whitfield) has no truck with his amorous advances – while she’s sober, at any rate.

Meanwhile, fellow voyager Bert Conway (Jimmy Logan) makes his own ardent advances towards Sadie; effeminate Robin (John Clive) has a series of hissy fits with his friend Nicholas; and mummy’s boy Eustace Tuttle (Charles Hawtrey) is happy to keep himself to himself, so long as he has a bottle for company. The holidaymakers are all in the mood for a good time, which is a shame since the hotel they’re staying in is still a building site, with the Brits forced to share bathrooms and rely on the harassed staff: manager/porter/receptionist Pepe (Peter Butterworth), exasperated chef Floella (Hattie Jacques) and their lothario waiter son Giorgio (Ray Brooks). If they’re not quite set to endure the holiday from hell, the tourists certainly have to make their own fun in Elsbels, even if their idea of a fun day out lands them in jail.

I’ve seen enough Carry Ons now to have a pretty good idea of how the series pans out, and Carry On Abroad fits entirely predictably into the pattern of the later movies. Which is to say, not having a genre or specific film to parody, or pompous authority figures to lampoon, the film instead deals with a slightly drab aspect of 70s British life and unsurprisingly struggles for laughs as a result.

The problem is best exemplified by a summary of what happens in the film: the party take a coach trip to the airport, arrive at the unfinished Palace Hotel and have dinner; have a morning’s sunbathing; take a trip into town which turns – tee hee – into a bunfight and arrests; and a farewell party enlivened by an overdose of love potion and cut short by natural disasters (depressingly, the plot of Carry on Behind is almost identical).

Within this desperately thin frame, Sid carries on his usual doomed wooing of Babs (to Joan‘s swivel-eyed disapproval), Ken is as scared of Miss Plunkett as enamoured of her, Peter goes increasingly mental as events spiral out of control, and Charles drinks his way through the entire film. All of this is done on a typically minuscule budget, of course, so the air travel is stock footage and there’s no chance of the gang getting near a real beach.

As one of the later Carry Ons there are other difficulties too: Talbot Rothwell’s script is high on ladies in (and out of) brassieres, lazy double entendres and references to ’it’, and low on invention and wit. Everyone looks a bit long in the tooth, not least Sid, Babs and Charles Hawtrey (indeed, this was his final appearance in the series); and some of the troupe are criminally underused, not least Hattie Jacques who is reduced to flannelling in the kitchen and sweating over the ‘bloodings’ stove. Furthermore, the new faces, such as John Clive and Scottish entertainer Jimmy Logan, fail to make much of an impression – or rather, their characters are so flatly written that they don’t stand a chance.

Carry on Abroad is not a complete loss; at least Jacques is in it, Jack Douglas merely bookends the piece, and whilst it’s surprisingly explicit (after this long, there’s nowhere for Babs to go except completely naked), it narrowly avoids the hopelessly unamusing smut of Girls and Emmannuelle. On the other hand, this is not even half as good as a Khyber or a Cleo; anyone who says otherwise is trading on pure nostalgia and would be well advised to revisit the good ol’ days.

Sideways

WFTB Score: 16/20

The plot: Struggling writer Miles takes his actor friend Jack away on a stag week, looking to relax with wine-tasting, golf and (hopefully) good news about his novel.  However, Jack is determined to enjoy his last week of freedom to the full and pairs up with Stephanie, an impulsive single parent. Although Miles is drawn to her friend Maya, he is held back by his fatalistic attitude and thoughts of his ex-wife.

Feted by critics on its release, Sideways is a modest comedy that was swept up by awards buzz in 2005, earning an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and a nomination for Best Picture, alongside dozens of other awards. Some viewers seeing the film for the first time may wonder what the fuss was about.

I say this because, at heart, Sideways is an incredibly simple story, focusing on Miles and Jack’s road trip and Miles’ attempts to move on with life after his divorce from re-married ex Victoria and a breakdown he suffered subsequently. The trip is set against the luscious backdrop of California vineyards, but the subject matter and its pat conclusion of “All you really need is a woman who understands” has been dealt with many times before.

Two elements distinguish the film. First off, the actors are brilliant – as Miles, Paul Giamatti is masterful at treading fine lines, making his character sympathetic even as he is stealing money from his mother or reading Barely Legal magazine. Miles is also educated, sensitive and a good friend; and even if you think he’s a loser, the film tells you why he’s a loser. During the course of the first evening spent with Maya and Stephanie, Miles’ descent into introspection and drunk-dialling is uncomfortable but compelling.

Contrasting completely with Miles, Thomas Haden Church’s Jack rarely thinks about anything except getting his end away; he is utterly selfish, morally indefensible, yet still retains a dudeish charm; and it is not as though he goes unpunished for his actions, physically at least.

Whilst the female characters exist primarily as reflections of what the men are looking for, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh do well to round out the parts of Maya and Stephanie respectively. Miles and Maya’s relationship grows organically, realising they have more in common than merely a love of wine; Jack and Stephanie, on the other hand, have nothing but animal instincts drawing them to each other, and Stephanie is equally wild when she finds out the true reason for Jack and Miles’ trip. These four actors dominate the film and do a fantastic job at holding the viewer’s interest.

The second distinguishing element is the film’s sharp script. It’s entertaining, informative and a little bitchy about wine and wine-tasting, and equally clever on relationships. The script draws out Miles’ passion for wine (Jack, conversely, says everything’s pretty good), but establishes that what he really enjoys is talking about it, criticising it; his oenophilia really only conceals his frustrations as a writer.

Whilst Jack is wavering over his impending marriage, a clever scene with Stephanie’s mother and neglected daughter in a bowling alley shows that he would find the domestic situation hell after less than a week. Of course, the script is also very funny, in particular on the golf course, or when Miles has to recover Jack’s wallet after a liaison too far; despite their ups and downs (so to speak) you can see why Jack and Miles would be friends.

As in Election, director Payne is not afraid to bring things bluntly to the screen, so you should be prepared for some fruity language and the odd bit of nudity – mostly male, it should be said, and very funny too. It is refreshing to see a romantic comedy centred on the lives of people who have been around the block a bit, and although the themes are familiar the ending is left nicely open, for Miles at least: discovering his ex-wife is pregnant (and therefore not drinking!), he drinks his precious ‘special occasion’ wine in a fast-food restaurant before visiting Maya, and we are left entirely to our own devices as to whether we think they will be successful in love.

Essentially, this is where the script, Giamatti’s performance, and Sideways as a whole earns respect. In its modest, bittersweet way, the film says that you will never be guaranteed a happy ever after in life: but if an opportunity comes along, you should at least give yourself a chance.

Election

WFTB Score: 14/20

The plot: Perky presidential wannabe Tracy Flick has her campaign upset by teacher Jim McAllister, who has personal and philosophical reasons for believing she should not be elected without a fight. As the campaign gets nastier, Mr M adds complications to his own life that affect his judgement come polling day.

Although most of its action takes place in a high school, Election is far from your typical high school movie; anyone expecting proms, sex and beer-fuelled mayhem is going to be disappointed. For Election is a far more biting, satirical piece, concentrating on the animosity that arises between Mr M, the teacher (Matthew Broderick) and Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), his over-achieving pupil.

Tracy is a girl who puts her hand up in class to answer everything, and gets on committees to run everything, and anyone who has spent any time in school will instantly recognise the personality type. Mr M knows about an affair that took place between Tracy and his disgraced teacher friend Dave, so dreads the thought that if Tracy wins he would be spending a lot of time with her. Considering that every Coke should have its Pepsi, he persuades the local jock Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) – popular, rich and slow on the uptake – to run for president, a move that attracts Tracy’s fury.

Additional complications arise when Paul’s sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell), heartbroken when experimental girlfriend Lucy dumps her and shacks up with her brother, decides to run for president herself and delivers a barnstorming speech rousing the truly popular ‘Who cares?’ vote. On top of all this, Jim, tired of functional, baby-making sex with his wife, makes a play for Dave’s ex Linda.

As you can see, it’s a pretty complicated picture, but Payne tells it in forthright, uncompromising fashion, using a multiple narrative technique which lets Mr M and the three presidential candidates speak their own minds throughout the film (I do not know if this is copied from Tom Perrotta’s novel). Two performances stand out: Witherspoon is excellent as Tracy, a proto-adult who occasionally gives in to childish explosions of rage, joy or grief; she holds the film together, letting us know exactly what a struggle it is for her to be so outwardly robotic.

The other strong performance comes from Jessica Campbell, whose burgeoning lesbianism and sense of proportion about the election offer a refreshing alternative perspective, which is of course seen as subversive by those in authority. Out of all the protagonists’ outcomes, it is Tammy we feel most pleased for as she ends up in a Catholic girls’ school.

There are bound to be those uncomfortable with the subject of Dave and Tracy’s teacher/student relationship, especially considering his vulgar way of speaking about her. In the film’s defence, it happens! It also emphasises a theme, seemingly prevalent in Payne’s films, that men are weak creatures who will do anything for the promise of sex. This may be unfair, but Dave and Mr M put up a convincing case for the prosecution. There are also a few coarse moments, such as during the candidates’ prayers, but they come out of the blue and have an amusing shock value.

Elsewhere, the humour is more subtle and one of the best jokes is tossed away almost completely – recounting the ballots, the head teacher finds that Paul has won, due to Mr M’s interference (Paul would have won anyway if he hadn’t been super-nice and voted for Tracy out of modesty); during the arguments that ensue, it emerges that there were far more votes discarded, attributed (fleetingly) to ‘Tammy fans.’ It’s a hollow victory for whoever wins!

In general, Election struggles to keep up momentum in the same way Payne’s later film Sideways does; Jim’s brief affair with Linda slows the story down and his grotesque bee sting injury fails to add much besides visual humour – unless it’s to emphasise that he becomes increasingly one-eyed in his judgement. The film’s best moments are in the first half and the conclusion, whilst fitting, includes some fairly heavy-handed satire as we catch up with Jim in New York.

Still, it is only right that morals and ethics catch up with him in the end, and – in another satirical dig – that Tracy gets away with her lies and ends up working in Washington (for the Republicans, although I’m sure that has nothing to do with anything). With some great acting and brilliant lines, Election gets my vote. It’s not cosy, it’s definitely not for the Get Over It/She’s All That crowd, but it is often very, very funny.