Special People

Special People


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

When you come across the best short films, they frequently leave you wishing they were longer – but when you hear one has managed to cross the Rubicon, there is always the fear that the longer version will fall, well, short.

Good news, then, for everyone who enjoyed watching Justin Edgar’s short Special People at the Edinburgh Film Festival and elsewhere in 2005 – it's back and bigger, without succumbing to the law of diminishing returns. In fact, the more that you think about Special People, the better it gets.

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Dominic Coleman – who co-wrote the short and the feature – reprises his role as Jasper, a film-maker who gets a lot more than he imagined after being assigned to help a group of teenage wheelchair-users make a movie. In the short, his character was perilously close to caricature, as he tried to inflict his brand of ‘social realist’ filmmaking on the youngsters. Here, he is much more likeable, though still flawed, as you see that although frequently misguided, his heart is in the right place. While some of his backstory, including a failed engagement, feels a little tacked on, the thrust of his character always rings true.

The script, although credited to Coleman and Edgar, was developed through a lot of improvisation with the young cast members, a move that has helped to root it in reality, as Jasper attempts to convince the teens to make a “fiction film about real life”.

Dave (Jason Maza), the wide-boy of the group, is in a wheelchair after boosting a car and crashing it. Angry at everything and nothing, he can’t even resist referring to Anais (the impossibly beautiful Sasha Hardway), the girl he fancies, as “a cripple”. Robyn Frampton reprises the role of Jess from the original short. Her character, too, has been developed to good effect.

When one of the students, Scott (David Proud, in an excellent turn), suggests they make a documentary instead, Jasper merely blanks their indifference and ploughs ahead with a plan to take them up a hill to ‘symbolise their daily struggle’ – blissfully unaware of the comic complications that await.

By keeping the central theme simple, Edgar and his team are free to explore the nature of the relationships and the characters in the classroom alongside bigger themes such as attitudes to disability from within the community and without. Another key theme of the film is the lies people tell one another – big and small – and the implications this has on relationships.

Importantly, however, disability is just something that features in the film, rather than being a topic that is dwelt on at every turn. The teenagers are – like all kids – special in their own way and yet, at the same time, perfectly ordinary. Issues of disability are cleverly explored but never heavy-handedly.

Edgar shoots in a documentary style, which lends the film an immediacy. Scenes of the blossoming romance between Anais and Dave are frequently shot from a distance, with the observational style adding a further layer of reality to the feel - making the audience a voyeur, as if peering in on a secret. The only downside is that some of the shots are a little too lingering, which has a negative affect on the pace.

It is, then, thanks to Coleman that the film never gets mired in the doldrums. He hits every note – mainly in a minor key – perfectly pitching Jasper out on to a tightrope between cringeworthy and sympathetic.

Also, in a move that brings blessed relief, the beartraps of ‘typical’ modern British cinema are avoided. There is no easy resolution in the face of corporate adversity, an absence of cutesy children, an avoidance of one-liners in favour of much more powerful situational humour and, best of all, no schmaltz. In short this film is, as the title suggests, a little bit special.

Reviewed on: 22 Aug 2007
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Special People packshot
A film-maker faces comic consequences when he tries to make something 'real' with a group of disabled teens.
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Director: Justin Edgar

Writer: Justin Edgar

Starring: Dominic Coleman, Robyn Frampton, Sasha Hardway, David Proud, Jason Maza

Year: 2007

Runtime: 78 minutes

Country: UK


EIFF 2007
Glasgow 2008

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Danger: Disability