Modern Life Is Rubbish

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Modern Life Is Rubbish
"If you were a fan of Blur, Oasis or Radiohead, there is much here to like and relate to."

Modern Life Is Rubbish is, as someone once wrote of this planet, “harmless”. Or perhaps “mostly harmless”.

It starts with a simple conceit: a break-up played out to the soundtrack of romance gone awry. Here they are, sorting through possessions and record collection, deciding who gets custody of the Blur albums. All those songs and tracks that once brought them together now reprised, in flashback, as bitter sweet adieu.

It's a little different from your average romcom, but not by much. Liam (Josh Whitehouse) is a geek, obsessed with real – by which he means heartfelt, agonised over, played on vinyl - Music with a capital M. He plays in a going-nowhere band, is incapable of holding down a job for more than half a day, and is to be found hanging out in record stores, where he bumps into Natalie (Freya Mavor).

She, too, has her dreams. Somewhere along the way, though, as they get it together, set up home, and collide with real life (in the form of monthly rent), the dreams get binned. Or rather, Natalie sells out to the capitalist monster – gets a job in an ad agency – dons a suit and becomes breadwinner for the pair of them. Cue simmering resentment, not helped by the fact that Liam seems less than grateful for her support of his lifestyle.

There are some nice touches, some sweet touches, including a disastrous first sexual encounter: where's the condom? What music to put on? And oh-my-God, the neighbour can hear! There is, too, a very clear arc. Up, up, up and away followed by down, down and deeper down. The penultimate straw for Natalie is a Glastonbury drenching: stuck in a tent, no money, down to their last can of beans. From here on in, the writing is on the wall. They split and then we are left with the inevitable romcom will-they-won't-they.

Well, what do you think?

This is, for the most part, a two-hander of a film. Other anonymous characters fill in the necessary background like so much plot wallpaper – or graffiti. The exception, providing the only other source of narrative interest, is streetwise and shouty PR manager The Curve (Ian Hart). His job, apart from shouting at the band members, is to deliver insight and wisdom, and move the story on when it gets stuck. I suspect he enjoyed playing this role.

Beyond this, the musical focus acted, in part, as a barrier to getting into this film – at least in the first half hour or so. Because it is inevitable that the soundtrack of a couple who are now late twenty/early thirtysomething will feature a lot of music from the Nineties and early 2000s. So if you were a fan of Blur, Oasis or Radiohead, there is much here to like and relate to. Whereas if that was not your time, you will miss a great deal of subtext and reference.

Like, for instance, the fact that the film's very title is a harkback to Blur's second studio album. I didn't know that (I do now), but then, this film misses my own musical heartland by about two decades.

I was also less than impressed by the sheer feckless teenagerishness of Liam. If you are 17, you will get what he is about. If you are 27 you won't. Or shouldn't. If I were Natalie I'd have dumped him after a couple of dates.

That sounds a bit like dissing a romance because I don't fancy the lead guy. And yes: there are times when that matters. This, though, goes deeper. Because the standard romcom trajectory requires not just romance and impediment to romance, but also a credible resolution in which one or both would-be lovers sees the error of their ways, and embraces the change that makes reconciliation possible.

Perhaps it is just ancient, jaded me: but the leap required to bring Liam back into civilised ways felt a leap too far. My disbelief remained unsuspended. Though I will confess that the finale, like the opening, was very sweet and sparkly.

Reviewed on: 28 Apr 2018
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Rom-com sees a couple whose relationship is on the rocks who find a shared love of music makes breaking up hard to do.

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Amber Wilkinson **

Festivals:

EIFF 2017

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