Movies and music can make for uncomfortable bedfellows when that relationship moves beyond soundtrack duties. For every This is Spinal Tap, Hedwig and the Angry Inch or La Bamba (hugely underrated) there’s a Hearts of Fire, a Breaking Glass, a Rock Star and a Fear of a Black Hat. David Mackenzie’s You Instead, which premièred at the Glasgow Film Festival, is not quite up there with the former, but I think has enough energy and charm to keep it out of the latter list. I think. I admit I’m still making up my mind.
The reason for this indecision is that I enjoyed the film despite being aware that it has many flaws. Some of these are completely understandable, and therefore forgiveable. The film was shot in the four days of last year’s T in the Park, so some of the more unbelievable plot-lines can perhaps be forgiven. If someone had been able to help the lead characters, as they surely could, there would be no film. You have to decide to go with such matters, or you’re really not going to like You Instead.
Director Mackenzie thought it vital that he cast musicians in the lead roles, something that too many films ignore (I’m looking at you Rupert Everett). If your making a film about music then those involved should be able to act and play music. It just seems obvious and it works in both directions (I’m thinking about you Bob Dylan). One of the best scenes in You Instead is when the fictional band The Dirty Pink are playing and their song turns into a cover of Tainted Love. It feels like a real band playing to a real audience, and if that hadn’t of worked the film would have failed.
True to the director’s word the two leads have the necessary musical chops. Natalia Tena, who plays Morello, is the lead singer in Molotov Jukebox, while Luke Treadway, who is Adam, was in the cult movie Brothers of the Head which is about Siamese Twins who ‘lead’ the band after which the film is named. They are both strong and likeable screen presences, and their casting is one of the unarguable positives of the film. It is not a spoiler to say that they are handcuffed together for the vast majority of their time on screen (it’s in the picture at the head of this post), and while this plot device creaks heavily, it just about works due to their chemistry. Here they both are in those earlier guises as proof they can play:
The supporting cast are given little to do. Adam’s fellow band member is charmingly played by Mathew Baynton, and the rest of Morello’s band The Dirty Pink are good when asked to be, which is not often. The comic turn is supplied by Gavin Mitchell, best known as Craiglang’s own Boabby the Barman who is surprisingly believable as Bobby the American manager of Adam’s band The Make, before he is reduced to pratfalls and acting pished as the film draws to a close. Ruta Gedmintas, recently seen as Frankie in Lip Service, who plays Adam’s jilted other half, is offered thin gruel. The speed with which she deals with their bizarre situation, and the relationship between Adam and Morello, is one of the casualties of the film’s 90 minute running time.
It appears to me that You Instead is aiming for a similar romantic feel to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, which I love unapologetically. This is a fine ambition and in places it comes close. However it can’t pull off the more gentle scenes of that film, which are necessary for the audience to fall in love with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, and the film. In Before Sunrise ‘Celine’ and ‘Jesse’ can take things at their own pace as they move through Vienna. But at a festival everything moves at a hundred miles an hour, and you are never on your own, even when you think you are. Oddly enough the pace of the film is both a plus and a minus. It means that there is a rushed feeling to the development of the central relationship, but it also means that those moments that push believability are soon gone and can be soon forgotten.
So, after all that, what do I feel about You Instead? I think for a midsummer’s night movie it would be pretty perfect. Maybe after a night out when all you want to do is unwind with your chums, finish off the wine and not worry about bothersome things such as plot and realism. You know from the first 10 minutes where things are going, but in the right circumstances the journey to get there should provide you with a warm glow.