Friday, September 29, 2006

Shopping (The movie, not the activity)


DVD 1996, starring Jude Law, Sean Bean, Jon Pertwee and of course Jason Isaacs (for about ninety seconds, and the reason I rented it in the first place).

Once, in the late seventies, when I was a student, I was minding my own business in my East London flat when a local girl, approximately eleven years old knocked on the door. She was with a friend of ten or so. She said, "Do you mind if I break into your flatmate's car? My friend wants to learn how to do it." I later found out her friend was a late starter. Most of them started TDA ('taking and driving away' – stealing cars) at nine, with wooden blocks on their shoes so they could reach the pedals.

I was reminded of her when I watched "Shopping" last night. She must have grown up – or at least got bigger - and made this movie. That would explain everything about it. It would, for instance, explain why it's set in an (unnamed) town that is about 0.01% worse than the real-life London and therefore is set in an unlivable sink of depravity without a single redeeming reason shown why anyone without brain-damage would want to live within fifty miles of its borders. The tale about the wooden blocks on the car-thieves' shoes is told verbatim in the film.

I actually liked the movie. I'm really not sure why it seems to get such negative reviews. It's the classic love story, two doomed lovers who find that the forces arraigned against them are overwhelming, but they love and lose anyway, two moths beating their charred wings together in the candle flame.

The movie begins with Jude Law's character, who is called Tommy or Vinnie or Tony or Billy or something like that, in gaol on his release day. Jude Law is very young in this and is impossibly, luminously beautiful. His girlfriend meets him outside in her old car. First business – to "trade in" the car for a new one, by ramming a BMW at a light and stealing it when the driver gets out to take the details. From there on, our loving couple go to a back-street drag race, indulge in the titular 'shopping' by ram-raiding, lure policemen into traps, live in a caravan filled with knick-knacks and various prominently displayed badges of poverty, and meet their friends at Raves and penny arcades by the always-ebbing, never-flowing muddy river.

Something is bound to go wrong with this life of innocence, of course, and it does in the form of Sean Pertwee, as Billy or Tommy or Vinnie or Jimmy or something. Mascara'd and luminously beautiful in his own more twitchy and twisted way, Sean's character does all the same things, but he does them for grown-up reasons – he wants to make enough money to live on. The two hunter-gatherer adolescent lovers and the capitalist grown-up are competing for the same resources (shop windows), and a show-down is inevitable. On the journey we meet Sean Bean as Stevie or Billy or Vinnie or Tommy or something, "Mr Big" of this particular unlivable town, and even Sean is almost-tending-towards-luminous-and-beautiful, what with a well-groomed high-class shining, er, mullet, and perfectly composed Mr. Biggelicious features. The policemen are not going to give up the chase either. Our hero and his girlfriend agree to One Last Job before moving on to a new life, and you know how an OLJ is going to play out in a romantic crime movie. . .

There is quite a bit of humor, but you have to be fast on your feet to catch it, and for those who like such a thing, a very fetching piece of erotic knife play with Sean "Johnny Depp's twitching got nothing on mine, baby" Pertwee wielding a straight razor.

Although the movie's closest cousin may be "The Last Minute" – a British movie about life in the interstices between the places normal people live, the movie's overall feel reminds me of a grittier "Absolute Beginners", a saturated-color documentary of a fantasy London. Some of the shots are breathtaking. The exteriors of the club called the Plaza, and one of the stores, the Alaska, are literally shining examples of the finest British indie fantasy movie genre. The establishing shots of the train graveyard show a wonderland, and one shot where Jude Law is watching a police car burn from inside his own vehicle and he powers the window down, lowering a panel of reflected flames to reveal his face, is astonishing.

Some of the feel of the movie is deliriously *off*, as though the director had never met a working-class person and was going by a description in a badly-translated travel book, say one by a provincial Dutchman. One of the young hoods shouts, "Booyakasha!" and another on his way out "shopping" shouts, "Let's do crime!" Billy and Tommy share accents that are partly public school and partly Cockney. The nightclub scenes look a little bit like they were recreated from a memory of a movie like "Blade" or "Batman" rather than by someone who has actually been to a Rave. Tommy or Billy, whichever is the grown-up one, roughs people up in a genteel, hesitant manner that suggests he's worried about his hands, and one thug looks much as though he learned his look from Vyvyan in "The Young Ones". This gives some of the action the feel of a school play, which bearing in mind the overall level of violence and unremitting lack of moral focus, is actually quite a useful balancing tool.

What else? Marianne Faithfull, sixties beauty and early heroin casualty, makes a very brief appearance as . . . an ex-beauty who looks like she once almost died of heroin addiction. Oh, and Jason Isaacs is in it for about ninety seconds. It is without doubt the worst piece of acting I have ever seen Isaacs commit. It's an embarrassment and I'm sure the director would have left it on the cutting room floor if there had been any other coverage at all for the plot point that Jason's character was there to present. Isaacs wears a baseball cap, evil rug-fluff stubble, and chews gum so artificially-enthusiastically that you want to pinch his cheeks hard to make him drop it like you would a dog that was chewing a wasp. His lines are delivered in a dreadful fake-Cockney and his body-language would disgrace the aforementioned school play. All in all, nothing worth seeing for an Isaacs fan in this one at all.

Overall I like it. You'd probably hate it. But this is what Netflix is for, ne?

Edit: Only five years later, I learn that "Let's do crimes!" is a quote from Repo Man.

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