I was more impressed by the visual stylings in Richard Ayoade’s debut than his choice of subject matter. The much-feared adjective “quirky” (feared because it can be a crutch for laziness) can be justifiably applied to this 1980s Wales-set tale of adolescent trials and tumults. But despite the arresting technique on display, it often felt to me that this was over-familiar territory.
Ayoade’s film has been not unreasonably compared to Wes Anderson’s oeuvre, but there’s a darker – gothic even – sensibility at work. It reminded me a little of the under-appreciated The Young Poisoner’s Handbook, which also had a strong (and quirky) visual sensibility and even more pronounced vein of black comedy running through it. The director even lifts horror tropes (the title cards and ominous scoring are straight out of The Shining) to underline the apocalyptic psyche of the young protagonist Lloyd Tate (played by Craig Roberts). But the result at times feels over-studied and too tricksy for the actual content, which is very slight. I’m sure Ayoade would say that is the point; teenagers’ tendency to over-dramatisation and portentousness.
Roberts and Yasmin Paige give strong central performances, while Noah Taylor (strange to see him now in parent roles) and Sally Hawkins provided seasoned support as Lloyd’s parents. The dialogue in general is sometimes trying a little too hard to be clever, but I liked their different responses to Lloyd’s question “Who would you save first in a house fire?” Paddy Considine’s motivational speaker, whom Lloyd suspects his mother is having an affair with, drifted too far into cartoonishness for me, though.