You Have Been Watching…Fast Romance

After having read some decidedly sniffy reviews about Glasgow set romantic comedy Fast Romance my expectations were not high. What I realise now, having seen the film, is the laziness of these reviews which have little to do with what actually happens on screen. Three in particular were almost interchangeable; all concentating on Richard Curtis’s Love Actually, BBC Scotland’s River City and Gregory’s Girl rather than the film itself. Let’s take these one at a time; critics are right, this is no Love Actually. And thank the Lord for that as it is the most smug and manipulative film I can think of off the top of my head. There is more heart and soul in Fast Romance than can be found in any Curtis’ feature (I’ve just remembered the Curtis’ ‘made for TV’ The Girl in the Cafe, so Love Actually might have to drop to number two).
Another accusation thrown at Fast Romance is that it is little more than a long version of River City, the justification for which seems to be nothing more insightful than the fact that some of those on screen have appeared on that soap at one time or another. Now I’ll admit that I don’t watch River City, but this strikes me as cultural snobbery at its very worst, prejudging that actors who appear in soaps should not appear on the big screen, or that they are only able to do one thing, and then not very well. River City may be a poor example of the genre, I don’t know. I haven’t watched a soap regularly since Mark Fowler became Tucker Jenkins in Eastenders, but to suggest a causal link in this manner is poor. Review the soap and review the film by all means, but don’t try and suggest that your feelings for one have any significant bearing on the other.
The claim that had me most concerned was that this was a film that was trying to rip off Gregory’s Girl. As many of you will know I bow to none in my admiration for that film and those that made it. But this is the most ludicrous accusation of all. Fast Romance wears its influences not just on its sleeve, it wears them head to toe and with pride. It has been made by people, director Carter Ferguson and writers James McCreadie and Debbie May, who are fully aware of Scotland’s comedic history, and attempts to, if not place itself in this history, then at least pay homage to it. From the music, which has the sax and synth of Bill Forsyth’s film, to the poster of Gregory on the wall, and the appearance of Robert Buchanan in a cameo, this is a warmhearted homage rather than an attempt to imitate. Buchanan is credited as Andy  which is the name of the character he played in Gregory’s Girl. He also gets to say ‘I like to watch the smiley faces’ which echoes a famous line from the earlier film.
But it doesn’t stop there, in a central role is Vincent Freill, Will the ‘wolfman’ in the 1985 film Restless Natives (see You Have Been Watching…Restless Natives), and there is a copy of said film in one character’s DVD collection, along with Local Hero and, yes, Gregory’s Girl. There is also a nod to TV’s comedy past. Barbara Rafferty, from, amongst other things, Rab C Nesbitt, is perfect as the satanic woman across the close, Dave Anderson, who despite his many credits on stage and screen is still known to many as Mr McLelland from City Lights, and, in one of my favourite moments in the film, there is the appearance of Greg Hemphill from Still Game and Chewin’ the Fat delivering flowers from ‘Villiers Flowers’. If you don’t get the joke I’m afraid it’s too convoluted to explain here. There are some lovely subtle touches in the film that seemed to have been overlooked by critics. Perhaps I’m being overly geeky about this, but this is a film which has been made with care.
Fast Romance is not going to feature in many people’s list of the best movies of the year, nor has it any pretension to. It is pure entertainment of the kind that Scottish filmakers rarely attempt, and a film industry worth the name must have space for every genre and style. I don’t know if the film makers, Coatbridge’s Ickle Flix Ltd, encouraged the comparison with the work of Richard Curtis, but a more apposite comparison would be with David Kane’s romantic comedies of the 1990s, This Year’s Love and Born Romantic. It is not as accomplished as either of those films (and when is someone going to give Kane the money to make more movies?), but it has the same charm allied to a realistic world view. As with those earlier films, what stays with you is not the comedy or even the romance, but the moments when tragic, and dramatic, reality intervenes. This is when the actors involved shine. Here is the trailer:

Fast Romance has its faults. Some of the relationships, and indeed performances, don’t quite work. But most do. William Ruane, as Gordy Boyd, is clearly put forward as the film’s Gregory, and is well cast as the young man trying to make sense of what is unfolding around him. Derek Munn, as the decent and put upon Kenny, is the dramatic heart of the film, and Jo Freer’s Nadine turns out to be more complex and astute than the audience are at first led to believe. She is also a natural comic actor who wins you over with her positive, idealistic, yet ultimately realistic, world view. In hindsight that is the films major strength, that the central characters who appear one dimensional to begin with develop as events unfold in a manner which is entirely beleivable. There are no dramatic changes of pace, just a gentle progression of people and plot.

The cameos by the more experienced cast threaten to overshadow those lesser known actors, but by the end it is the central relationships, their success or otherwise, that you care about. I’m not really an aficionado of the romantic comedy, but I do know the Scottish branch of the genre, and in a week when I finally got round to watching The Match (which has, from Richard E.Grant, one of the most ludicrous accents of all time, but more of that to come soon) I found Fast Romance really rather refreshing. It doesn’t have many belly laughs, but I had a smile on my face for most of it, and was really moved by the more dramatic scenes. At a time when modern romantic comedy often means jokes about every taboo under the sun, this charmed me, and that was an unexpected, and rather lovely, thing to have happen.

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