Friday, 7 December 2012

Inbetweeners: "Life Just Is"


Life Just Is, an appreciably droll debut from writer-director Alex Barrett, fits neatly into a subgenre we might define as "downtime drama", of which Jamie Thraves' cult favourite The Low Down would be the most prominent 21st-century example: films that seek to describe the existence of young characters waiting for their lives to get going. We open on a set of twentysomethings sitting around a modest front room somewhere in latter-day North London, and discussing how the romcoms and action movies they have cause to rent bear no relation whatsoever to the lives they lead. They're writing the film's own manifesto, in effect, and it's one Barrett wholeheartedly signs up to, proceeding to show us all the quotidian filler usually elided in or omitted from other films, on the grounds of efficiency: characters cleaning their teeth or entering into halting conversation, or hanging round in kitchens with stuff on their minds, or lying around in bed, unable to get to sleep. Occasionally big news intrudes from the outside world - the death of a contemporary, for example, struck down far too young - but everyone ends up back at the breakfast table the next day, shrugging about the tickets they failed to get that one time for that thing. What we're watching would appear to be an extension of student living, only without the educational framework and financial structures to support it: Barrett's characters, trudging along with their hands in their pockets, have very much been left to their own devices.

The film is a little bit isolated, too: at a time of renewed interest in British genre output, it's intriguing to see something with the confidence to go its own way and insist not every low-budget offering has to fit a certain template. At times, Life Just Is has the air of a formal joke: practically the only time the camera moves is to follow Tom (Nathaniel Martello-White), one of the friends, on his way to and from work - and even then it's in no particular hurry. Yet slowly the film begins to pull the limitations it's working within around it, assembling them into a pillow-fort sort of vision: the awkwardness and hesitancy recorded here - the odd off-note struck by the performers, the dead air hovering around the beginnings and ends of scenes, pushing the running time up to 102 minutes - feels, for once, at least partially deliberate, the better to represent a set of characters who often don't have all that much to say for themselves, and seem unsure where they're heading exactly. A likable cast and some attractive digital photography, making the colours pop right out of the everyday, ensures this enforced downtime doesn't feel like wasted time; the film's not always so polished, but it's certainly promising.

Life Just Is opens in selected cinemas today, ahead of its DVD release on Monday.

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