Although it starts off disappointingly similar to its TV stablemate “Outnumbered”, this quintessentially British comedy quickly and deftly becomes its own creation, weaving dark and light themes into this small scale film about life, death and everything in between.
Underneath the gruff and curmudgeonly Craggus exterior, I’m a sentimental soul and so this tale of a couple’s disintegrating marriage being put on hold so they can attend their ailing father’s forthcoming birthday party managed to tug at many a heartstring. The actual plot of the film, slight as it is, is actually its weakest aspect, threatening to overshadow the exquisite character-driven drama with its ever-so-slightly surreal and farcical nature. The fact it doesn’t is testament to the genuine emotional core of the movie.
As you’d expect from Writer/ Directors Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin the sharp, bittersweet script lacks the saccharine sweetness of a Richard Curtis Rom Com and as a result the characters feel real; every bit as contradictory and ridiculous and wonderful and infuriating as members of your own family. The Scottish setting looks wonderful, of course, but this film succeeds through the efforts of its cast. David Tennant, an actor who has often seemed lost in movies, is absolutely on point here, and his trademark mannerisms are kept to a minimum. Now I know I tend to give Rosamund Pike a hard time – I didn’t even warm to her critically lauded performance in “Gone Girl” – but I have to hand it to her, she absolutely nails it here. Ben Miller trots out his flawless Scottish accent but the film belongs to Billy Connolly’s impossibly warm and wise grandpa Gordie and the three grandchildren, played with natural charm and sweetness by Emilia Jones, Amelia Bullmore and Bobby Smalldridge.
There’s a pivotal event in the middle of the film where the story nearly derails the whole thing by taking a turn for the ludicrous and macabre but the cast rally magnificently to steady the ship. Don’t judge this film on its poster or its trailer; it has a lot more to offer than just a few chuckles at the foibles of family life. I was expecting a run-of-the-mill British comedy drama, the like of which are churned out on a regular basis but instead I got a keenly observed story of family life which is simultaneously poignant, distressing, frustrating, funny, comforting, upsetting, annoying and ultimately redemptive and uplifting.