Reviewed by Jenny Turner
Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.
London, the present. Rock musician Fergus (David Morrissey) arrives from Liverpool, looking for Mo (Jane Horrocks), the fiancée whom he jilted eight years before. Meanwhile, Eddie (Jimi Mistry), a small-time crook, is running away from a mugging he has just botched; he takes refuge in a busy salsa club. Having just dumped his date, Frankie (Craig Ferguson), a jazz fan in his thirties, also turns up at the club. There, Eddie asks nervous Jocelyn (Catherine McCormack) to dance; Frankie has the hots for stylish Eleanor (Olivia Williams); Mo, Fergus' former fiancée, gets drunk. Later, she makes a pass at cab driver Jimmy (Adrian Lester) who refuses her, saying he is happily married.
Eddie calls Jocelyn on her mobile and they meet. Jocelyn works in a cemetery, tending graves for people who haven't time to look after them themselves. The couple are becoming close until Eddie spoils it by attempting to mug her. Frankie continues to pursue Eleanor, and she continues to rebuff him, until one evening she changes her mind. The couple are about to have sex in Frankie's kitchen when his former wife storms in.
Acting on Jimmy's advice, Fergus finds Mo at the salsa club. A tentative reconciliation ends when Fergus tells Mo what he'd most like in the world: "A Grammy". Jocelyn spots Jimmy in the cemetery, laying flowers on the grave of a young woman. Later, while running Jocelyn and Eleanor home, he confesses that his wife is dead.
At the nadir of their respective romantic ambitions, Fergus, Eddie and Frankie all decide they must learn to dance properly. They take classes from Maria (Louise Delamere), the salsa-club teacher; the next time the couples meet, the men dance brilliantly and the women succumb. Jimmy enters the club for the first time and catches the eye of Maria.
Born Romantic is the second feature from writer-director David Kane. Like the first one, This Year's Love, it's a romantic comedy featuring youngish, scruffyish Londoners (here, the action revolves around a salsa club, where the film's thirtysomething characters regularly congregate). Also like the first movie, it has an ensemble cast of hottish British actors and an episodic plot. One improvement on the first story: there's less bed-hopping in this one. Characters stick - more or less - to their allotted partner in the comic dance, so we don't need to feel so anxious about their sexual health.
Disappointingly, however, the plot of Born Romantic turns instead to unoriginal contrivances to knit its narrative together. The salsa club itself is one, of course. Adrian Lester, an actor known for his RSC stage work, here playing the lonely, soulful cabbie Jimmy who counsels all the other characters without a thought for himself, is another. (Is it a coincidence that this outsider figure is the only character in the film to be black?) And neurotic Jocelyn is almost as wearisome on paper as she is made flesh by a mannered Catherine McCormack. A woman who wears a neck brace for vanity reasons and runs a freelance mourning service for those too busy to grieve, hooking up with a sweet-natured, incompetent mugger whose only desire is to look after his poor demented dad? Oh no.
The dialogue is laboured too. Failed rock musician Fergus tells Jimmy that his former fiancée Mo, for whom he is searching, likes roller-skating, and Bloody Marys, and the Elgin Marbles. "So you think you'll find her roller-skating round the Elgin Marbles drinking a Bloody Mary?" Sometimes, you can actually hear the brain-cogs creaking as lines are turned and turned again, until the all-singing, all-dancing, American-style spin is found: "Well, fuck me over a hostess trolley"; "It's not just a crush I've got on you. It's, it's a stampede!" And the acting is for the most part undemanding, although it's fun to watch Olivia Williams as the elegant, aloof Eleanor coasting in her grand, bored way through what must be a tremendously easy part for her.
But like This Year's Love, Born Romantic does have a distinctive way of looking at London. The city is shot mainly at night, developing a sense of it as a ghostly bohemian underworld of people with mysterious (though certainly limited) sources of income, shapeless, fashion-free clothes and complexions which seem never to see the light of day. Is Jocelyn's silly job the film's big metaphor? Are all of these people denizens of the city of the dead?
There are some wonderful night cityscapes of London - photographed by French cinematographer Robert Alazraki - with its dark, scary, glamorous settlements of multi-storey car parks and glittering office blocks. These, however, are slightly spoilt by Jimmy's cruising-in-his-cab music, which sounds remarkably close to Bernard Herrmann's score for Taxi Driver (1976). The darkness, the music and the seriousness of Jimmy's demeanour seem to be striving for a mood of panoramic world-weariness which neither the script nor anything else about the film has really earned.
- David Kane
- Michele Camarda
- David Kane
- Director of Photography
- Robert Alazraki
- Michael Parker
- Production Designer
- Sarah Greenwood
- Simon Boswell