Beginner’s Luck (2001) – A Film Drifter Review

Beginner’s Luck (2001) – A Film Drifter Review


In my dream… I am following something. But I don’t know what it is. Mark! Marco! Mark! I’m going now. Of course. If you have no idea what your dream means. Then following it, will be difficult. I want you to do something while I’m away.
Use your time. Which isn’t something that
you can tell your dad. Do something constructive, all right? Or your mum, for that matter. I mean, you know, you are only young. You ought to be having a lovely time. Running about and getting drunk. Falling out of windows. And having lots and lots of
crazy sex. Welcome to Film Drifter. In this episode I will be
examining Beginner’s Luck, A rather obscure British independent
comedy from the early 2000s. Today it’s primarily
recognizable as a film Co-produced, co-written and
co-directed by James Callis Of Battlestar Galactica
and Bridget Jones fame, Together with Nick Cohen, As well as featuring Callis in the lead role. I saw Beginner’s Luck by accident
on a local TV station Before being exposed
to Battlestar Galactica, But I think I was already aware
of James Callis at that time, Through his performances
on various British TV productions, And appreciated his presence
and acting quite a lot. A combination of playful direction and
absolutely on point comedic performances Glued me to the screen, And it proved to be a film that
stuck in my mind permanently. In the following minutes of this video I will try to communicate
the particular qualities of this picture, And why you should seek it out. Beginner’s Luck is an independently
produced British comedy released in 2001, About a hopeless amateur theatre company Trying to stage Shakespeare’s Tempest
and tour with it around Europe, Despite nobody in the troupe having
any experience in stage acting. It begins with Mark Feinman,
played by James Callis, Supposedly a school-leaver, Coming up with the idea of
staging Shakespeare’s Tempest In a flash of inspiration. He’s prompted by strange repeating dreams
of being marooned on a desert island, But he convinces himself
it’s a premonition, When he connects the
desert island with Tempest, While watching a TV segment
with Anthony Fontaine, A prolific and successful screen actor, Being interviewed on developing
a stage production of the play in question. Mark is enthusiastically joined by school friends
Jason and Hettie in his idea, Played by Sacha Grunpeter
and Rosanna Lowe. He places an ad in The Stage,
but having no funds to finance the play, Advertises for actors looking for “magic” And willing to contribute
to the cost of the production. Naturally, the remainder of the cast
ends up being filled by misfits, Naive, desperate and/or delusional individuals,
and one accidental walk in. After losing a key member of the cast, They are quickly joined by
a mysterious replacement, Anya, played by Julie Delpy. What follows is a train wreck of a tour, Starting in a London striptease club, Continuing with a trip to Edinburgh, And finally ending up in Paris to find no audience. The disastrous experience will test most
of the troupe members’ perseverance, Faith in Mark’s leadership
and the sanity of some, Eventually leading to emotional growth,
but also friendships being broken. The script is actually based on true events, On the experience of the film’s writers,
James Callis and Nick Cohen, Being part of a similar
traveling theatre troupe years ago. It takes a playful, improvisational and
comedic approach to the story, But also doesn’t shy away
from being bleak and rough, Presenting an uncommon dichotomy. On the surface it might appear like an All-too-familiar mockumentary
indie sort of shtick, But the quality of writing
and the previously mentioned Rather challenging dichotomy
of comedy and tragedy (or realism if you will) Make it stand out from other
similar looking films. It is definitely a film that warranted
more attention and positive feedback Than it received in its time. Beside one unfairly
negative review on IMDB And a solid review on BBC’s website
that survived the passage of time, There is little actual feedback
to be found on this film on the web, And hopefully this review can help bring
more positive attention to it. The film opens up with a
mockumentary-style segment Featuring characters
talking into the camera, Like they are being interviewed, About the experience of this
failed amateur theatre tour, Intertwined with segments of
our main character, Mark Fineman, Franticly running around
some Cannes lobby And seemingly badgering
potential producers. This all eventually connects
at the end of the film, But the audience can’t make sense
of it in the beginning. Perhaps such an introduction
feels slightly disorienting, But it sets the audience up
for a sort of improvisational, Open form tone of the rest of the film. As far as film language is concerned, The film doesn’t overdo this approach. It’s actually mostly “classical”
in its storytelling, Despite the docu-style interviews
returning at one point, And many scenes in Paris
not shying away From more experimental
and eclectic cinematography. It’s funny that those opening
segments were in fact Shot before and after principal
photography, as later additions, But actually blend very nicely
with the rest of the film. The film is much more challenging
in its unrelentless realism, Than with its cinematography, Which might appear a bit
undisciplined in parts. The remainder of the film
after this opening Actually has this this gritty,
late 80s/early 90s looking photography, Reminding me of films like Shopping,
or maybe Romper Stomper. Perhaps it was not on purpose,
but works very well For the overall bleak aspects
of the story to pop up. The initial gathering of the troupe
by the main trio Sets up our low expectations For what is about to happen
to their traveling theatre project, But their zeal and blind
ambition remain charming And somehow compel us to root
for the troupe’s impossible success. What kind of people
do we want to join us? We want electric people! Electric, special, magic people! Hard people! Hard people? Why are they hard? Veterans. Veterans of what? Veterans of war. Black Magic Theatre seeks
actors for mind traveling! Now, what you forget is,
I have done no acting. I have done no acting!
I have no experience here… I will be playing Prospero the magician, In a very savage and brutal manner. More importantly,
you have no experience here. It’s true. And I’ve never
done a play in my life. Most of our core actors
have trained… Abroad! It’s violent, and it gets people in there!
Really gets them in! Like Seven Head! Mad Dog!
Seven Head Theatre Company! Mad Dog! What we are looking
for are actors. Actors! From now on, actors
will be referred to as X. Mad Dog and Seven Heads… And I’m not saying that’s a step
I am not willing to contemplate, But I’m saying… A massive voyage of discovery! I mean, we could go to Paris! Professionals that you must supply,
and that you must ensure. That’s the first sentence!
We got the first sentence. Are you looking for magic? We could do it in Haiti! I mean, they are really
interested in magic in Haiti. Are you tired of life
and ready to die? Upon closer inspection
The Tempest proved to be, … Completely undecipherable. After a departure of a cast member
that was in fact forced on Mark And the arrival of a mysterious stranger
in the character of Anya, An element of almost fantastical
good fortune is introduced to the story, Whose effect nevertheless, doesn’t
manifest in the success of the play. Anya really makes a great entrance
by responding to Mark with: There’s no need to hold any
auditions, I am here. Eventually, she ends up
being more of a mirror To other troupe members
and their aspirations, Not really facilitating
the success of the tour, But in a way helping some
of the characters experience A catharsis through this
misfortunate adventure. The presence of the
Anthony Fontaine character, As sort of embodiment of
success to Mark Feinman, Our troupe director, Is a valuable dramatic
addition to the script. It simultaneously serves as an
impetus for Mark to pursue his ambition, But also very soon to reflect
on his own shortcomings At achieving these
overreaching goals. The film is loosely separated
in three segments, With the intention for each segment
to feature its own tone and rhythm, And for the most part is
successful in this idea. From the unavoidable disaster of their
first performance in a London strip club, Followed by the demoralizing
experience in Edinburgh, To the almost desperate,
head-through-the-wall trip to Paris, It manages to build the story up
and slowly shift the tone. Only, the impending
doom of their adventure And the mental breakdown of
some of the troupe members in Paris Appears slightly too oppressive
and drawn-out to me and, In comparisons with London and Edinburgh, Tonally jarring to some extent. Some 25 minutes toward
the end of the film It feels like the story almost
stops to a stand-still And is struggling to move forward. Of course, this can all be
interpreted as intentional; However, I don’t think the
Paris segment compliments The enjoyability of the film, Whatever the intention of Callis
and Cohen might have been. What is however well contrasted
to this is how the tour finally ends, Despite being sort of defeating, Post-failure conclusion to their adventure. It plays out like a release
from this disintegrating Caving in imprisonment, that the
troupe in a way became for all, But in reality was self-imposed. It brings everyone’s perspective
into proper place, And despite disappointments remaining, It seems like no hard feelings do. Mark Fineman’s emotional journey
is really well portrayed, Feeling a bit like a possessed delirium, Compellingly contrasted with the reality
that simply refuses to conform To his dream-infused ambitions. Mark’s father that comes
in to aid at some point Without an ounce of judgement, Is one of the particularly
moving moments of the film, That play’s off Mark’s mental
state really effectively. A great deal of Beginner’s Luck
was improvised, And according to James Callis’ words, He and Nick ended up in
the editing room with material That predominately was
not actually written. So, some of the footage
had to be shot subsequently. Nevertheless, Beginner’s Luck appears
particularly polished structurally. It doesn’t feel improvised in
a negative way, disjointed and random. It does however, manage to retain
the positive aspects of improvisation, By feeling very organic,
natural and playful In the very performances
and actors’ interactions. It succeeds to move quite
gracefully and logically From one plot point to the other, And despite the Paris section
feeling slightly drawn-out And maybe too challenging
after the first two thirds of the film, The film overall gives an impression Of a surprisingly tight
and coherent narrative. James Callis mentioned in our interview
on the production of the film That he and Nick Cohen spent
a lot of time in the editing room, And I think this really
shows in the final cut. Dramatically, the film has few issues. Primarily, the age, background
and the motivation Of the original troupe trio
is not really fleshed out, As well as their, in some sense, Acting arrogance toward
troupe newcomers. None of this is elaborated,
and simply has to be taken for granted. Some short appearances
and performances are also iffy, Like Jason’s parents, or the nun
that appears toward the end of the film, Which makes no sense what so ever,
and feels completely superfluous. What elevates this movie
a great deal, in my opinion, Are definitely the performances
by Sacha Grunpeter and James Callis. Grunpeter being an undeniable talent,
very expressive and confident, A natural for comedy. He is very convincing and comfortable In displaying a wide range
of emotions with his character, From the initial zeal to almost
suicidal depression towards the end. James Callis’ mannerisms and charisma Really make him stand out
in anything he does, And I’m surprised he didn’t
make a bigger career outside TV. He carries a similar load as
Sacha Grunpeter in this picture, Brings in his own emotional arc, Appears equally committed as
Grunpeter to his performance and, What is always tricky
for an actor directing himself, Is very disciplined and
controlled in doing so. Not that other performances are lacking. It’s actually a group of very eager
and excellently casted actors, Quite charming and natural, But perhaps the script itself
doesn’t allow them To fully showcase their talent. I think Julie Delpy had a quite
difficult job with playing Anya, Which is a very light character,
almost a non-person, That had to be performed very subtly. But she manages to pull off a curious
balance of an almost supernatural being, And an obviously seasoned,
unscrupulous, street-smarts woman. Finally, cameos by Steven Berkoff
and Christopher Casenove Are really on point and very funny. Hello. Hello, hello! C’mon, sit down. It’s nice to meet you. What do you call yourself? The…eeh… Vagrant Theatre Company? It’s Vagabond, actually. It it? All right. Ok then,
the Vagabond Theatre Company. Well, I had more assholes
sitting in that chair Than I had dinners, right?
So, I mean, let’s get to the point. I’m thinking of branching out. I’ll have the adult
entertainment upstairs. Right? All the adult stuff, you know. Yeah, ok? After a bit, yeah,
we could have a look after. And then downstairs,
I’ll have the culture! So, anyways, did you
bring the money, the deposit? I don’t know anything
about a deposit. This is a good club!
This is in the center of town! What do you mean,
you got no deposit?! This could made him angry! Oh, dame, it’s all right. See, you winded him up. He’s gonna have a go at you.
Ain’t it? You know, I’ve got a niece. Charlotte. And she’s a bit of a star. She’s got talent comming out of her… Never mind, but she
got a lot of talents. I’ll act as her agent. I’m sorry, but really… We have to audition everybody
before they come into the company But I will certantly audition
your niece, Charlotte. How does that sound? Don’t fucking interrupt me. You fucking interrupt me again And I’ll shall ram this ring Right up your fucking ass, Until it comes out of
your nose like a nose ring. You get it? All right! Now, piss off! It’s simply one of those movies
that manages to convey with ease That it was a labour of love
of most involved in the production. The film’s score consists
of an eclectic mish-mash Of pop, techno and
even classical pieces, But they feel very fitting
for specific scenes And the cues don’t really
chafe one against another. It is noticeable that
there is no overarching Musical theme
through-out the picture, But one doesn’t feel needed. What does pop out are excellent
musical numbers by World Party, Beginner’s Luck being
my introduction to them. There is definitely an underlying,
quite positivistic message to Beginner’s Luck. Despite this uneducated ambition
leading to embarrassment, And comically tragic situations, In the end Mark doesn’t give up,
and actually builds on this experience. Maybe to a new disaster,
but his determination And reasoning are
definitely infectious. It kind of reminds me of Gary Vaynerchuk
and his “love the L” mantra. In that sense, the writers’ approach To show this experience in its true colour
is even more commendable. All in all, the challenging dichotomy
of comedy and harsh realism, Earnest ambition and
disheartening failure, Curious sprinkles of (seemingly)
fantastical events and characters, Improvisational and playful tone, Tight editing, great performances
and overall a satisfying ending, Definitely make Beginner’s Luck
a worthy object of interest, Especially if James Callis is an actor
your admire and/or like. It’s a film that deserves and
will reward your attention. As far as official releases of the film, There is an UK and Dutch
DVD edition of this film, Both about a decade old,
that are still available on Amazon, Ebay and few other online shops. It’s also listed on Amazon Prime video, But I’m not sure about
availability across the globe. It does look like a film that might be
difficult to find in the near future. Thank you for tuning in for
another episode of Film Drifter. I have a few very exciting
ideas in the loop, But for the next episode I hope to be able
to compile my retrospective of Solaris, The novel and Tarkovsky’s and
Soderbergh’s adaptations. Stay tuned, and drift well. So this was the playhouse. Andrew Fontaine made it look so easy. Have you every wondered why? In the middle of the night, That a candle lit shine,
should attract a passing moth. And though you try, and… He was so relaxed.
So in control. Don’t worry Mr. Fontaine,
we’ll soon have this under control. Let’s take it from the top. I realized I had nothing
in common with Andrew Fontaine. Concentration. I was completely… Out of my depth.

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