Saturday, 16 May 2015

A Royal Night Out (2015) - Movie Review

I have a serious problem with the term 'first world problems' for a number of reasons, one of the main ones being that people mostly use it to negate whenever someone who is better off than they are has something go wrong. Nowadays, it comes package-delivered with all the "at least you aren’t starving in a third-world country" clichéd phrases, which then begins a slippery slope that means that literally no-one can ever say that they are going through hard times. Homeless and living on the street? At least you have a street to live on unlike most kids in Ethiopia; that kind of thing. The reason why this annoys me like it does is that I get that those in the higher ranks of society go through issues as well; not the same issues as the rest of us, but they have to deal with problems same as the rest of us. Sure, someone complaining about a scratch on his Mercedes kind of has what’s coming to him, but more income brings on a different variety of things that need to be handled and not everyone is cut out for it despite where they are. For the record, this isn’t me looking down from a castle wall and telling people to get over it; I’m just a middle-class guy who’s seen enough Disney Princess movies to get the general idea of why living in regal luxury can get a bit too much for some people.

The plot: On VE Day, when Churchill officially declared victory over the Axis powers in World War II, the streets of London erupted into wild festivities. Princesses Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) and Margaret (Bel Powley) want to be a part of it but the King (Rupert Everett) and Queen (Emily Watson) won’t allow it without an escort. Managing to sneak away incognito, the two become separated and Elizabeth enlists naval officer Jack (Jack Reynor) to find through the drunken shenanigans going on all around them. *sigh* Hijinks ensue.

Within seconds, just how very British everything is becomes very apparent. I can now see why higher-ups are considered ‘stuffy’ because I constantly felt the need to let some air in so I don’t choke on how posh the whole affair is. Not to detract anything from the actors, as Gadon and Powley are very good as the leads, Emily Watson fills her shoes nicely and Rupert Everett makes for one of the more genuinely fun characters on screen; it’s just that the levels of monocle-popping found throughout gets more than a little tiresome. The contrast between the very uppity Windsors and the working class party-goers does serve a purpose, and makes for a decent sub-plot about getting the public opinion of the royal family but it would have served a lot better center-stage instead of what we actually get.

This film seems to be very confused about what it’s trying to be. It flip-flops between being a zany British comedy, complete with comically inept royal guard, and a more serious romantic drama about England finding happiness again after the war in whatever way they can. The closest we get to seedier material here is Margaret getting tangled up in opium dens, a bootlegger played by the ever-amazing Roger Allam (who is shoved aside eventually, never to return again) and possible date rape shenanigans. If that wording sounds insensitive to you then know I only use it because I genuinely do not know how seriously to take it. For one, the music is full of period-style swing and jazz, which gives a very loose and fun atmosphere to the production even when it isn’t called for, and the acting can sometimes enter the realm of pantomime particularly when it comes to the police escorts that are meant to looking after the princesses.

For another, despite how lecherous the contents sound, this is an extremely chaste depiction of British nightlife, even for back then. No joke, this film doesn’t even have the wherewithal to show Elizabeth getting kissed on-screen; I don’t know if this is a Diana situation, where the royal family wouldn’t allow certain things to be shown on camera, or not but it does give a very superficial air to the proceedings. For as much as it tries to give the impression that the princesses are in potential danger in certain situations, like when Margaret is almost sent off as a… lady of ill repute, let’s say, the way everything is shown makes it seem like a weird tug-of-war between producers on exactly how much they were willing to show. Well, in any case, I have the same advise on hand for the filmmakers that I have for those about to go on a proper night out: Go hard or go home.

It doesn’t help that the budding romance between Elizabeth and Jack is pretty clichéd in how it plays out. Jack is the rebellious soldier (read: stereotypical bad boy) whose very evident disdain for the royal family, along with the general plot setup, make the always-annoying ‘liar revealed’ moment feel that much lighter on impact. They do have decent chemistry together and work in a generic sense of opposites attracting, but it has the same development of so many other on-screen meet cutes to the point where it genuinely started to annoy me.

The best thing this film has going for it is how much it sets itself apart from all the other WWII Oscar-bait films that reach cinemas, even with how hackneyed its plot elements can get. While several of them focus on the war as it happens, be it from the civilians’ and/or soldiers’ point of view. This inevitably ends up dealing with the harsh realities of war and, on occasion, humanity’s own capacity for dark behaviour. By contrast, this film focuses on the aftermath; the overwhelming sense of relief that came with the final word that the war was over and the people didn’t have to worry so incessantly about their own deaths. That jubilant feeling that exists throughout this film, in between the mismatched tone and questionable decisions both in and out of the film’s reality, is so damn refreshing that it helps make this film a lot easier to sit through than it would be otherwise.

All in all, this is a more upper-class version of The Hangover and it’s about as tonally confused as that sounds. The cast do well with their roles, with Rupert Everett and Jack Reynor making for some decent moments every so often, the soundtrack mostly works and the writing definitely has some good ideas behind it, but it doesn’t seem to know what exactly it wants to be and how seriously it wants to take itself. This might be a simple case of it not being made for my demographic for all I know, but even then I can’t imagine those within the older age range this film is meant for getting much out of it either.

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