Monday, 27 February 2012

Teenage wasteland: "Hunky Dory"

Hunky Dory, the director Marc Evans and writer Laurence Coriat's second collaboration after 2010's Patagonia, turns down the ambition and comes up with a high-school musical rather too obviously conceived to meet the needs of the current marketplace. Awash with lazy period nostalgia, Hunky Dory wants to get the Glee kids and their parents into the multiplex, but the results are so twee and insipid one suspects it's going to struggle. We're taken back here to the summer of 1976, where progressive drama teacher Viv May (Minnie Driver) has taken it upon herself to stage a rock-opera version of The Tempest. Her principals are sixth-formers stuck with a roster of issues retrieved from the bins round the back of the old Tucker's Luck production offices - crushes, bullies, nerves, changing sexual identity.

The fear is that Evans - who once made proper films (My Little Eye, Trauma) - is becoming to certain Welsh funding bodies what Michael Winterbottom is to their English equivalents, or David Mackenzie to their Scottish equivalents: a golden boy able to get money for anything, whether or not these projects are worthy of our cinemas. This latest evokes a long, hot Swansea summer in its exterior shots, but its interiors look cheap and dashed-off, unified only by their insistent soft-focus haze. The script seems underdeveloped, too. Hunky Dory fails the School of Rock test, in that Evans and Coriat can't make these kids as interesting or entertaining as the grown-ups: the most immediately recognisable pupil, Fresh Meat's Kimberley Nixon, surely deserves better than a role that requires her merely to make out with spotty oiks in unpromising leisurewear, and the rest are one-dimensional poppets played by blandola Hollyoaks types who tend to suck up the oxygen in every given scene.

More damaging yet, given the set-up, the film demonstrates a tin ear for music, picking fairly dreary songs between the Bowie, and subjecting it all to effete school-concert orchestration. One bright spot: the still bafflingly underappreciated Driver, who lends an otherwise hippy-dippy, tambourine-waving character her usual spark and mischief, and the film its small handful of laughs in her battles with headmaster Robert Pugh and uptight colleague Haydn Gwynne. Yet she's having to rally the kind of fundamentally lame material that seeks to instil a Proustian rush at the mere mention of melon balls and a fridge full of Tip Tops. You'd dismiss it as televisual were it not so shapeless, scattering half-formed scenes in a way that makes a mockery of its would-be triumphant story arcs. For a film about music, it ain't got much rhythm.

Hunky Dory opens in selected cinemas from Friday.

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