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Review by Rich Cline |
dir Aml Ameen
scr Aml Ameen, Bruce Purnell
prd Aml Ameen, Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor, Damian Jones, Dominique Telson, Matthew G Zamias
with Aml Ameen, Aja Naomi King, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Stephen Dillane, Sheyi Cole, Robbie Gee, Joshua Maloney, Claire Skinner, Martina Laird, Derek Ezenagu, Yasmin Monet Prince
release UK 3.Dec.21
21/UK Film4 1h49
Is it streaming?
With a strikingly great-looking directing debut, Aml Ameen inventively creates a holiday romantic comedy infused with British-Caribbean culture, complete with lashings of food and soulful music. It's a lively, engaging film that features plenty of raucous antics alongside thoughtfully involving drama. And it also has a smart, likeable cast of characters, each of whom has a journey to take over the course of a few days around Christmas.
After two years in America, novelist Melvin (Ameen) returns home to London on a promotional trip, bringing not-quite-fiancee Lisa (King) with him for the holidays. She takes his boisterous family in stride, especially his welcoming mother Shirley (Jean-Baptiste), who is hiding her relationship with Richard (Dillane) from everyone. But Melvin has neglected to tell Lisa that his ex is red-hot popstar Georgia (Pinnock), that he never properly finished with her, and that she's part of the family's extended circle. Meanwhile, Melvin's charming little brother Josh (Cole) courts trouble when he falls for the wrong girl.
Drawing from Ameen's own experiences, this film's warm, honest tone adeptly bridges the riotous humour with the darker drama. And it weaves in Jamaican traditions using big personalities, including an epic food fight. This is a rare movie that realistically depicts Black Londoners without the usual gritty cliches: these are happy, relatively affluent people who face life with big hearts. And because each character is flawed in his or her own specific way, they're easy to identify with.
Ameen is charming in the central role as a bright young man who has left a trail of destruction in his wake and is now confronted with cleaning up the mess. None of these things is easy, and the complexity allows Ameen and costars King and Pinnock to create superb characters. In her acting debut, Pinnock is particularly impressive, and she also gets some wonderful musical moments. Jean-Baptiste and Dillane provide some expert scene-stealing, which isn't easy in this film. And Cole is also notable as the cheeky Josh.
Knowing characters and settings cleverly elevate this crowd-pleasing British holiday romcom, playing with and upending cliches at every turn. Its multi-strand approach evokes Love Actually, which gets a hilarious nod, but this is a more tightly focussed narrative that beautifully celebrates multi-cultural London. Indeed, several side characters are so vivid that they deserve movies all their own. And that makes the film unusually refreshing, like spending a couple of hours with our own crazy families.
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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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