Sometimes a film lets you down but you don’t feel angry, just disappointed. After watching the film adaptation of Ecstasy I realise what my mother was getting at for all those years. I had heard that it wasn’t great, and of the stories of its difficult journey to the screen, but while you can see that this film began life with the best of intentions, by the time those involved had called ‘Cut’ it appears they were just willing to put it out and cross their fingers, because if this spent any serious time in post production those involved should be ashamed.
Let’s start with the basics. At the end it says this is a film ‘based on the novel Ecstasy by Irvine Welsh’. It isn’t, it’s based on a short story, called The Undefeated: An Acid House Romance, which can be found in his 1996 short story collection called Ecstasy(which admittedly is a bit of a mouthful). You may consider me petty to point this out but it is this lack of attention to detail that typifies the film’s insurmountable problems. For instance, throughout, most people seem to be having a bad Scottish accent competition. There are obviously many non Scots in the cast, and as it turns out there are reasons for that, and that’s fine, but if they can’t do a decent accent don’t ask them to because what you end up with is ‘Allo, ‘Allo set in Auld Reekie.
The clue for this misfire comes when the credits roll and we see that the majority of the funding was from Canada, and as it turns out so are most of the cast. For a sad TV addict like me there was fun to be had spotting Constable Turnbull from Due South, the man who played Hollis Mason in the film adaptation of Watchmen, Colin Mochie, a regular on the US version of Whose Line is it Anyway, a scientist from 24 and others who I couldn’t quite place. Oh, and in the role of one Dr Figg, it’s only Alex Lifeson, guitarist from the mighty RUSH! The fact that this is how I spent most of the movie tells you more than this review could ever do. The weirdest thing is that one of the few natives in the film, Glasgow/Middle Earth’s very own Billy Boyd, just about wins the accent contest with an Edinburgh brogue so bad my toes have yet to uncurl.
Like the original Welsh tale, it is ostensibly a love story set to the background of the clubs and drugs of the ’90s. The central casting is one of the better aspects of the film with Adam Sinclair as Lloyd Buist and Kristin Kreuk as Heather Thompson. Kreuk was the big stunt casting for the film, best known from her role as Lana Lang in Smallville, and she does well with what she’s given, although admittedly that’s not a lot. There’s a fascinating insight into the world of movies as it is clear that Kreuk has a no-nudity clause in her contract so that she is noticeably clothed and covered during the sex scene between Lloyd and Heather. What’s interesting is the fact the scene is far more erotic than an earlier one where we get full frontal nudity and more from the lesser known Olivia Andrup in her first film role. The explicit scene suffers in comparison to the latter one as it only highlights how exploitative and unnecessary it is. Perhaps one was to show sex on drugs and the other to show something more tender, but I certainly, if cynically, doubt it.
Adam Sinclair also does well at times. The scenes between Lloyd and his heartbroken alcoholic father have a real poignancy, particularly where the son tenderly bathes his dad after finding him passed out once more on the couch. Actually, Sinclair is pretty convincing for two thirds of the film, gallus but likable, and believable as the best friend that others look up to. But as Lloyd’s relationship with Heather deepens he doesn’t really
handle the big emotional scenes at all, and this is a real problem as it causes an imbalance between the two actors.
One of the themes that runs through the film is the idea that club culture and religion are analogous, something Faithless pointed out in just one four minute song with God is a DJ. Here the comparisons are much more drawn out. Lloyd and pals organise a rave in a church hall, Billy Boyd’s eccied evangelical raver, Woody, argues that his god’s voice is as valid as Father Brian’s. Lloyd talks about loving church when he was young for the sense of community and close harmony singing, (which I have to say was never my experience of the Church of Scotland), and then, to put the tin lid on it, Lloyd makes one final trip to Amsterdam dressed as a priest, Irish accent and all. I often write notes as I watch films, and at this point I simply had on my pad; ‘alright, I get it!’
The fact that there are many positives in Ecstasy makes matters even worse. I did enjoy parts of it. The soundtrack is spot on, and there’s a great in joke with the appearance of DJ John Digweed who gets pelters in Welsh’s original story, described as ‘John Bigheid’, ‘John Bogweed’ and who is dismissed as simply ‘shite’. In fact the best stuff in the film are the direct scenes and dialogue from the source story, which is one of the writer’s better ones, and certainly the best in the Ecstasy collection.
The film looks great, and it does that rare thing of showing the good, bad and ugly sides of Edinburgh and shoots them all in the same highly stylised manner. But after a while you begin to think that there are shots you have seen before, and you’d probably be right. I picked up Run Lola Run, Late Night Shopping, Human Traffic, and most obviously the opening of Shallow Grave which famously used a dance soundtrack accompanying high speed shots through Edinburgh’s city streets. Tick. And then there is the marketing for the film which is lifted wholesale from Trainspotting, a very dangerous thing to do if you want to avoid unkind comparisons. Here’s an example of the Blue Ray cover (left) and you can see one version of the poster at the top of the page. Look familiar?
Here’s the trailer to see what you can spot:
As I mention above, Ecstasy is a love story and in the end the drugs have little to do with it except to create another level of misunderstanding and disconnection between the two. For Lloyd it’s a way of life, whereas Heather was always just visiting. That’s the point. The final scenes, which I won’t describe here, are straight from the page and are as close as Irvine Welsh gets to the possibility of a happy ending. That original story is about growing up and still staying sane, and I can see that this is what the movie initially aimed at replicating. I have seen worse films in recent years, but none where it is obvious that what could have been and what is are so far apart. It’s the margin off the miss that makes it so disappointing. Ecstasy left me feeling sad, and that’s definitely not supposed to happen. Not for a couple of days at least.