Write When You Get Work

**1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Write When You Get Work
"There's an adequate set-up here for a heist story but what actually unfolds is a series of schemes that seem confused, inconsistent and sometimes altogether unnecessary."

A certain kind of boy acquires the name Jonny, as opposed to John or Jonathan - more often than not, he's a boy who likes attention, a boy reluctant to grow up. When we first encounter Finn Wittrock's Jonny, he's underneath a bridge with high school girlfriend Ruth (Rachel Keller), about to be interrupted by the police. There's a chase, a lot of laughter, then a spot of shoplifting. Ruth steals a pregnancy test. Her life is about to change.

When we meet them again, some years later, Ruth is not a parent but she's pulled her life together, left her working class roots behind and got a job at a private school catering to New York City's wealthy elite. Jonny still hasn't grown up. He sees her at a funeral. She tries to avoid him. So he breaks into her house. Most people over 20 would see this as a red flag when it comes to a potential relationship, but Ruth is every bit as much the cliché of the good girl led astray as Jonny is of the boy from the wrong side of the tracks. This is the stuff of Fifties pop songs. It feels a bit odd in a glossy 21st Century film that's trying hard to be taken seriously.

Is Jonny's interest in Ruth sincere? This is a questions the film never really answers, though the intention seems to be that we believe it is. The thing is, though Ruth may be sympathetic, she's quite dull and really doesn't suit his style; and whilst we can see why she gets distracted by his chiselled cheekbones and flashy smile, it's hard to see why she'd think of him as a serious romantic prospect. What's more obviously interesting to him is the access he can get, through her school, to vulnerable rich people. Chief amongst these is Nan (Emily Mortimer), an unwittingly obnoxious spoiled housewife whose comfortable life may be about to fall apart due to an investigation into her husband's financial dealings. She's desperate to find a means of hiding her assets and, with the people she had thought of as friends rapidly distancing themselves, is ripe for a con.

There's an adequate set-up here for a heist story but what actually unfolds is a series of schemes that seem confused, inconsistent and sometimes altogether unnecessary. Its resolution may have been playful and funny when used 40 years ago in a certain Jackie Chan film, but here it's just twee, especially when followed by a tacked-on reminder of the neglected romance plot and an assurance that Jonny has really had his heart in the right place all along.

This is particularly unfortunate because the quality of the acting in the film is good and it's beautiful to look at (largely thanks to Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit). Mortimer provides what is by far the most complex and watchable performance, making Nan pitiable even in her awful self-pity, so successful in distancing herself from the various people she despises that she finds herself all alone, convinced she can't survive without the advantages she has enjoyed. As her husband, James Ransone conveys the toughness one would expect of a high-flyer but also shows us the effects of stress (not least because of Nan's behaviour) and the affection that still exists within the marriage, giving humanity to a man few viewers will expect to care about.

Jonny may be a stereotype but Wittrock submerges himself in the role and makes it believable that this excitable young man would believe in his own stories. What's not believable is that anyone else would.

Reviewed on: 01 Dec 2018
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A petty con artist infiltrates the life of an old flame after discovering that she's working at a school patronised by the wealthy.

Director: Stacy Cochran

Writer: Stacy Cochran

Starring: Finn Wittrock, Rachel Keller, Emily Mortimer, James Ransone, Afton Williamson, Andrew Schulz, Isabella Blassingame

Year: 2018

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: US

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