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Simon Read [Celluloid 06.26.13] United Kingdom comedy drama

Energetic British comedy-drama with good performances from a young cast, We Are The Freaks is set in 1990s' London shortly after the ousting of Thatcher from government and concerns itself with the lives of three friends on a wild night out where, we are assured, absolutely no lessons will be learned. We've seen a few of these period pieces of youth drama in recent years, from Richard Ayoade's visually inventive and darkly comic Submarine to Ricky Gervais' meandering and curiously empty Cemetery Junction, but Justin Edgar's Freaks proves that - at least for the time being - there is still some mileage in watching a writer/director re-live their formative years through the use of bright colours, catchy pop music and nostalgic whimsy.

Jamie Blackley plays Jack, whose opening narration informs us of a list of things he hates in life, including but not limited to: rioters, ravers, mods, skinheads and goths. He also hates films in which the main character talks to the camera. Jamie works as an office mailboy and his frequent absences and bad attitude get him into trouble with the boss, but his dream of a place on a degree course at university keep him looking at the stars. His friends Parsons (Mike Bailey from TV's “Skins”) and Chunks (Sean Teale, err, also from TV's “Skins”) have a less positive outlook. Parson's parents nag him about his future and offer him nuggets of advice unconsciously stolen from Rocky Horror ("Don't dream it, be it."), while Chunks resents his wealthy father and trust fund, spending most of his time and money smoking weed, snorting speed and rebelling against the establishment. Oddly enough though, he has no problem with driving the Porsche his father bought him. Over the course of one evening the gang visit a burnt out drug dealer, (the excellent Michael Smiley) go for a joyride, gatecrash a party at the Young Conservatives Club and, hell, maybe learn a few lessons along the way after all.

For a film set firmly in 1990 (no mobile phones or Internet here) there is a distinctly '70s vibe which gives things a nicely retro feel as the characters play The Sex Pistols on vinyl and moan about Thatcher's Britain, only occasionally reminding us exactly when we are with the odd joke about how Nirvana will never get anywhere. Footage of Thatcher leaving Downing Street for the last time plays on every TV set shown in the film which adds an element of the surreal, and gives us a feeling that times are changing, although the characters remain resolutely downbeat about their hopes for the future. These are all nice touches which make the film seem quite alive, and along with Edgar's imaginative camera work and little artistic storytelling flourishes, keep the film from looking too much like another British made-for-television youth drama. The films looks good for a low-budget indie, and although it doesn't quite get beyond the sum of its parts, there's a nice flow to the script with plenty of on-target jokes and one memorable fight scene which pays homage to Oldboy - but which takes place in a chip-shop.

The main weakness of the film is Blackley's Jack, who is really just too bland a hero to carry the story, becoming overshadowed by his two friends and the various side-characters they meet. This isn't Blackley's fault; I think he does a pretty good job with what he's given, but the character is written as so cool and sarcastic that it's kind of hard to care about him. Jack talks the talk, brandishing copies of Bukowski and listening to Morrissey while narrating bitchily about his life, but beyond these superficialities he lacks colour and dimension. A couple of the old tropes of teen comedies are thrown in, including bizarre genital injury and a hot girl who likes to party even more than the guys do, but I suppose that's par for the course.

The best scene in the film takes place at a fancy party where Jack and Chunks are hiding out in the kitchen, surreptitiously smoking a home-made bong, when one of the stuffy adults comes in to make himself and gin and tonic. The man recognizes Chunks as an old friend's son, and without batting an eyelid starts to ask him about his father and how he's finding school. For one moment we see some vulnerability beyond the punk-rock persona and catch a glimpse of Chunks' real character. It's a subtle moment, underplayed by both actors to great effect.

We Are The Freaks doesn't break any new ground, but it's a funny movie shot with flair and made by someone who obviously loves their characters.

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