Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 10, 2020 7:24 pm 
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BILL NIGHY IN SOMETIMES ALWAYS NEVER

The prodigal son

This droll and witty film (not to be confused with the earnest teen abortion drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always[/i]) is obsessed with Scrabble, through which it approaches other, putatively more central issues of life. At the center of it is Bill Nighy (who also produced), playing Alan Mellor, a lanky, elegant, semi-retired tailor (and Scrabble grandmaster) who has come to the seaside to claim what may be the body of his long-lost son Michael, and, failing that, hangs on at the house of his other, less beloved but available male issue Peter (Sam Riley), and his wife Sue (Alice Lowe) and teenage son Jack (Louis Healy).

Sometimes Always Never is a title that refers to the buttons or a jacket, top to bottom, and how they should, or must, be done up, or not. Alan (Nighy) is concerned with the drape of a jacket and the line of a trouser leg. He's retired, but still has a hand in the game, easily finessing his son's effort to keep him from staying, and the night before, at a B&B, coaxing 200 quid in a Scrabble game out of Arthur (Tim McInnerny), another man on hand to identify the possible body of a lost son, and later finesses his wife, Margaret (Jenny Agutter). And he drives a very pretty classic red Triumph Herald convertible. This tailor is tailor-made for the inimitable Nighy as much as his gigs with Wes Anderson are for Bill Murray.

Alan admires the unusual font of a label-stamper he gifts to his daughter-in-law because it "has an elegant precision." Jack explains these same labels imposed order on the home life of his childhood. Alan's rage for order combines the aesthetic with the stay against confusion. The picture has that too, charmingly if you go with its blend of gemütlichkeit and aestheticism, being almost fanatically designed and produced, with busy, rich, colorful interiors thanks no doubt to production designer Tim Dickel, and other flourishes like black and white stills, rear projections, titles with period wallpaper backgrounds, accoutrements worthy of, say, Wes Anderson. It has a dour good humor worthy of late Aki Kaurismäki. The slow rhythms mask quiet zingers.

The delight in order may be seen as a low-keyed British version of Emily Dickinson's "after great pain a formal feeling comes." As Peter Bradshaw puts it, the "droll sprightliness and deadpan wit" Nighy brings to the lead part do not hide that his "mannerisms mask emotional pain." There is a hint of sadness and an air of forgiveness throughout the proceedings. Anger, if it is more than annoyance, never boils over into rage. When Arthur rises from the Scrabble board as if about to throw it to the floor, he simply announces he's going to have a pee.

The film is particularly forgiving toward not only Alan for his presumptions as a guest, which can be seen as a kind of gamesmanship, but, especially, the potential of young Jack, who may seem a computer-game-addicted loner at first, but is open to be made over by Alan into an elegant young man, quite "spruce" in his mother's word, who can now, with his new look, gain the attentions of Rachel (Ella-Grace Gregoire), the young woman of his dreams two bus stops up.

There is rarely a scene without Scrabble, a way, for its initiates, to master the world or tame time. In his win over Arthur Alan uses words like "Esrom," the name of a Danish cheese, "scopone," a 17th-century variant of the Italian card game scopa, and "Muzjik," a word for an indentured Russian peasant that scores you 128. "All part of the fun is the magic of wordds," Alan says. While staying with Peter et al., Alan discovers the online form of the game, with its "500,000 registered players," though how this can be new to him is hard to see since he seems to know more about adjusting computers than Jack. His perception of the Web Scrabble world quickly tends to the occult. He concludes that he has found Michael, alive, anonymous, and playing arcane high-scoring two-letter words only he would, well, not know, exactly, because any skilled player might know them, but play in this particular order. Alan thinks Michael cared a lot about Scrabble, since he walked out the night Peter said there was no such word as "Zo." But did he really care a lot? It's all so long ago.

The last part of the film is a coming to terms, with a period of lonely searching and a warm collective little finale in the manner of classic comedy. There will be some who find this movie too twee, too designed, too cute, too slow, too too. It perhaps plays better in its native England than in America. Some critics find the rhythms off, too sluggish, or think Nighy himself off the beat, his Merseyside accent wayward. But as the film moves from its designed, eye-candy interiors to equally beautiful exteriors with elongated landscape panoramas enhanced by the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, I remained charmed and found something continually fresh and original. The director Carl Hunter, fifty-three when this movie came out in 2018, seems a new young talent to watch. He regularly works with the screenwriter here, Frank Cottrell Boyce. He has made a number of short films and TV shows. He also has other talents. He was the bass player with The Farm, who were a hit in England in the early Nineties and had a number one UK album. (This explains the film's in-jokes about obscure British pop.) He lectures at Edge Hill University in his native Lancashire. I'd watch for his name, and advise you not to miss Sometimes Always Never in its online form.

Sometimes Always Never (also known as Triple Word Score), 91 mins., debuted at London Oct. 2018, UK release 14 Jun. 2019. Its virtual theatrical release by Blue Fox Entertainment is Jun. 12, 2020, on demand Jul. 12, 2020. Metascore 71%.

To rent it online from June 12, go to Fox Entertainment virtual theater.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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