Boyz In The Wood

***1/2

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Boyz In The Wood
"It's laugh out loud funny in places, and there's an endearing earnestness throughout." | Photo: Courtesy of EIFF

One of the highlighted features of the Duke of Edinburgh award that's central to this film is that successful participants are given a laminated certificate, but I checked with one of my overachieving siblings and it's actually a cardstock effort with foil embossing.

It's a small thing, but at that level of pettiness the film probably also deserves praise for avoiding a 'wear the fox hat' joke in its run-time. Though that would likely have been a cheaper laugh than it earns with humour at the expense of Duncan (Lewis Gribbe), who isn't the sharpest item in the cutlery drawer, or a running joke (with a long-drop payoff) involving a minibus. DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja) gives the film its (sub)urban edge and also a couple of musical numbers, and Dean (Rian Gordon) is the closest to a leader that the toilet-block trio have. Introduced entertainingly (with his own less explosive montage) is Ian (Samuel Bottomley), a home-schooled addition to the quartet. He's the closest to prepared of the foursome, even possessed of a DoE checklist on his lanyard, handily arranged with orienteering aide memoire and ticky boxes for achievements. It's also got somewhere to clip a dry erase marker, and in the misadventures that follow there's good cause to use it.

There are some neat bits of subversion. Shadowing the four is a mysterious figure but mischief with maps and well laid traps (and trapdoors) does a lot to fog foreshadowing. Some of the neater moments are easily mist, the landscapes envelop as ably as other elements of geography (especially human) to set our scene.

That certificate untruth is first mentioned in the opening film, an otherwise somewhat accurate explainer of the Duke of Edinburgh award that's narrated by Eddie Izzard, who, when not having a posh voice and running marathons, has apparently now a second wind as someone who often wears the face of a killer. Here he appears as a tweed Terminator, though his steely mettle is sore tested as he harries our heroes across the heather. It's a performance where the only odd note is a reference to another film he does a lot to sell his place in what amounts to Society, but it's one of any number of turns from recognisable faces. James Cosmo takes a break from shilling for the Iron Bank of Braavos to furrow his brow and have a tractor vandalised, and that's before we get to the Police.

It's a wee bit risky to have a polis called Hamish sculling about the Highlands but Kevin Guthrie (as seen in Connect at this year's Glasgow Film Festival) acquits himself well in the company of Sergeant Morag. Kate Dickie's in two films (at least) at the Edinburgh Film Festival, also appearing in what's likely to be another audience favourite, Balance, Not Symmetry. This though is the only one that's likely to feature a cop-shop equipped with a surprisingly complete set of engraved tiles for tracking priority crimes. That laser-etched preparation is one of any number of lovely wee background details (watch in particular for one that'll catch more than the corner of your eye) that (even in the absence of trees) help ground a film that relies on suspension of disbelief as much as it takes advantage of drone photography.

It's an entertaining wee film with relatively strong language in places, not quite maw-blanchingly accurate Glaswegian (Super November) nor the c-word delivered by an established character actor (various), and even with a wee bit after the credits I fear it missed a trick by not telling us what happened next like either American Graffiti or Animal House. Language is important too, from an ominous acrostic to nominal self harm, with detours about policing cuts (with more than a grain of truth) and a fair bit of nonce-sense.

There's a definite generational conflict here - grim grist for the mill, minimum wage meat-packing - and if referendums (fight me) have given us anything it's fortifying cereal with a mixture of vitriol and protest. There are some mismatches of expectation that bear fruit, and even if its climactic speech is unlikely to get played as much as those of Trainspotting (even with all the shite) it's still got more than a touch of class.

It's laugh out loud funny in places, and there's an endearing earnestness throughout. Even when it seems a little limp it improvises itself back up to speed. Stationery issues aside, this is a film that moves at a fair clip. That does lend Boyz In The Wood a somewhat episodic air, a not uncommon issue as budding talent branches out into features.

Ninian Doff is firmly in the running for the entirely hallucinatory 2019 Edinburgh Film Festival Eye For Film Award For Most Appearances Within The Credits Of A Live-Action Film (it's a statue of a kilted Robert Rodriguez holding a statue of a kilted Robert Rodriguez). He here serves as writer (feature début), director (feature début), co-editor, songwriter, phone animator, does some of the (eye-popping head-bopping) VFX, and with a fair few music videos and a couple of shorts to his name has brought those parts of his pedigree pretty ably to the screen. It hangs together well however, and it's not going too far out on a limb to suggest that at the opening gala for the 2019 Edinburgh Film Fest it'll give him the opportunity to take a bough.

Reviewed on: 17 Jun 2019
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Boyz In The Wood packshot
An anarchic cocktail of generational politics, hip-hop loving farmers and hallucinogenic rabbit shites, set in the highlands of Scotland.

Director: Ninian Doff

Writer: Ninian Doff

Starring: Eddie Izzard, Kate Dickie, James Cosmo, Kevin Guthriw, Jonathan Aris, Alice Lowe

Year: 2019

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: UK

Festivals:

SXSW 2019
EIFF 2019

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