At 18, Vince Smith (Legge) is just starting out his career as a legal clerk for a strict boss (Thewlis). He swiftly develops a paralysing crush on his coworker Joanna (Fraser), who has a secret life as a punk chick, in contrast to Vince's disco-dancer. Back home, Vince's big brother (Rhys) is trying to make it as a smooth-guy magician, while their dad Harold (Courtenay) is the one with real magical powers. He has suppressed this "gift" since childhood, but current events--including his nymphomaniac wife (Lulu)--bring it out again, much to the amazement of the local police, British society and an expert shrink (Fry) who's also Joanna's father. Meanwhile, Vince is watching his dad for inspiration as he tries to sort out his life.
The script is both warmhearted and sharply funny as it dissects human behaviour on various levels, while director Hewitt (The Borrowers) piles on hilarious 70s details from the colourful costumes and sets (nicely mirrored in the colourful characters) to the hit-parade soundtrack. The cast is excellent, with Fry stealing the show as a woolly-minded liberal who continually approaches situations with jaw-dropping pragmatism; the birds-and-bees chat with his bratty younger daughter (Roberts) is unforgettable. Some of the disco versus punk stuff is a bit forced, and the romance drags on and never quite works. But the story is full of unexpected little scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny ... and wonderfully telling too.
[15--themes, language] 2.Dec.99
UK release 10.Mar.00; US release 8.Jun.01
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