An Awfully Big Adventure–After You See It

                                                                                                                                           3:13 a.m.   6/23/24/05

I just saw a movie which has no redeeming characters, where it would be kind to call the plot transparent, and that doesn’t seem to think there’s a single shred of human decency anywhere.  Like a reviewer on, I labored under the misperception that this movie was a comedy—most likely because Hugh Grant was in it—when it’s dark drama all the way through.  I don’t think I’ve seen a more depressing movie in quite some time, and there is absolutely nobody to care about in the movie as the behavior ranges from brutal—Hugh Grant as Meredith Potter—to self-absorbed—Alan Rickman as P. J. O’Hara—to callow folly—Georgina Cates as Stella.  They all could have died and it wouldn’t have mattered to me.  In fact, I probably would have cheered if that was the case.  This movie is so damn bleak.

It’s also utterly compelling.  Oh, didn’t I say that already?  No, I didn’t.  The movie is An Awfully Big Adventure, and it is something of a tour de force that the movie can overcome all the obstacles and be so damn engrossing.  The purported heroine of the movie, Stella (Cates), is a 16-year old Liverpool girl who wants to be an actor.  She is raised by Uncle Vernon (Alun Armstrong) who is actually a redeeming character albeit a stereotype and by Aunt Lily (Rita Tushingham).  Her mother is supposed to be this big mystery, but it’s pretty obvious from the start.  Stella interviews with Potter (Grant) and Bunny (Peter Firth) for assistant stage manager.  She is hired, and she immediately falls in love with Potter who is clearly gay.  She doesn’t know that, but the film doesn’t hide the fact.  By the way, it’s funny to hear Alan Rickman say, ‘Potter’ given his latter role in the Harry Potter series, but that is neither here no there. 

Now, it would be easy to make Stella an ingénue type who is innocent and naïve and all that.  Well, she is, but she’s also a cold, calculating bitch.  Hey, just because she’s young doesn’t mean she can’t be a bitch.  She knows what she wants, and she’ll stop at nothing to get it.  It’s a tribute to Cates that she makes Stella at all palatable as the character is really unlikable.  Several times, I want to slap the hell out of her for being mean, petulant or down right cruel.  Also, there’s absolutely no reason for her to fall in love with Potter, but that’s ok as it’s a schoolgirl crush.

May I reiterate, however, my annoyance at stating that someone stars in a movie when he doesn’t even show up for the first hour?  Yes, I’m referring to Alan Rickman.  Granted, the time whizzes by, but I’m getting fidgety to see more than a picture of him.  Anyhow, things go tripping along as Stella makes one coldhearted decision after the other, and so does Potter.  He is fully aware that Stella adores him, and he’s not above using it.  I have to give props to Grant whom I don’t really care for.  He does a spot-on job as a nasty queen intoxicated with his own power, and I hope Grant does more roles like this.  In this country, he seems to be stuck in the affable, diffident romantic lead roles which is so goddamn boring.  I am surprised how good an actor he is, so kudos to him.

When Alan does show up after a series of unfortunate events—no, sorry, unlikely events—things really heat up.  I’m never quite sure if the movie means to make the plot as obvious as it is, but the tension is more in how things will implode or explode rather than what’s going to happen.  I have to say, though, I am squeamish about the love scenes and the kisses between Alan Rickman and Georgina Cates.  Yes, I know it’s Alan Rickman, and I would give my, uh, hm…what are eyeteeth?  Anyway, I would give a lot to kiss him, but he was fifty-one when this movie was made, and she was twenty.  That’s an ick factor.  I know that’s a part of the script, but it’s still squeamish to watch. 

The events that unfold are tragic of epic proportion.  They also feel inevitable, though any one of them could have stopped the ball rolling at any point.  Stella could have realized that sleeping with O’Hara to forget her love for Potter is a bad thing.  She could also have realized that calling out Meredith’s name to get back at O’Hara’s for his gaffe is beyond the pale as well.  Also, I’m never quite sure if she grasps the bigger picture concerning her absentee mother, but it’s no matter.  Her behavior is appalling either way, and it’s hard to view her as a confused young girl being taken advantaged of—especially as she’s so eager to lose her virginity.

The ending is as it has to be.  It is a suitable ending, though quite grim.  There are many complaints from reviewers for the darkness of the movie or for the fact that there is no redemption or comeuppance at the end.  People, this movie is not about that.  It’s about the horrible ways we treat each other and how we’re caught up in our traps.  There are so many ways to fuck up, and most of us seem hell-bent in doing as many of them as possible.  This movie is to be admired for sticking with its unflinching world view, not excoriated.  I’m so glad it didn’t sell out at the end, but stuck true to its roots. 

It surprises me how good this movie is because it really shouldn’t be.  As I stated above, the plot is painfully obvious; the characters are irredeemable—except, perhaps, for O’Hara who does redeem himself somewhat in the end; the message is bleak.  It’s the cast who deserves all credit for making this movie eminently watchable.  If you can stomach despair and human ugliness in all shapes and sizes; if you don’t insist your movies to have a happy or even neutral ending; if you can spend a few hours with people you’d never want to meet in real life, then put this movie on your Netflix Queue.  Just don’t blame me if you end up hating it.

p.s.  there is a bit of Alan Rickman flesh, but I couldn’t even enjoy it because I was too grossed out by the age difference and, well, other things.

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