Dir: Daniel Jerome Gill | Cast: Josh Whitehouse, Jessie Cave, Ian Hart, Steven Mackintosh, Freya Mavor, Tom Riley | Musical Drama | UK | 114′
Daniel Jerome Gill is clearly a fan of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. Modern Life is Rubbish makes a brave attempt to re-create Stephen Frears’ 2000 cult classic drama, that sees a young couple come together through their shared love of music, only to part ten years later, falling out of love.
Gill’s endearing but lightweight film lacks the charisma and zinging chemistry brought to the original by John Cusack and Iben Hjelje – not to mention the sensational script – to make it another breakout hit. Modern Life works best as a stinging reminder of the economic climate of its time as the world entered the late 1990s recession, Its sparkling string of musical hits by Blur, The Smiths, Oasis, and Radiohead considerably enhance the film’s entertainment and nostalgia value.
As Liam and Natalie, Josh Whitehouse and Freya Mavor are gently appealing: he, an old-school struggling musician who believes in his worth and his art; and she, an uptown aspiring art designer (of album covers) who lacks conviction, despite a megawatt smile. We first meet them in the rather morose opening scene whence the drama sashays backwards and forwards – to the time they first clapped eyes on each other, in a record shop, gradually showing them falling in love, as opposites attract. Liam’s inability to embrace the modern corporate world make him an appealing embodiment of anti-corporate culture, his disdain for social media is palpable: He refuses to own a smartphone or an iPod and is proud of his tangible record collection on vinyl. Natalie is more pragmatic, casting aside her artistic hopes for the advantages of pecuniary gain, to work in advertising. But her heart is clearly not in it – at the opening night of her first gig in an art gallery, the two realise they are not quite cut out for each other when Natalie explains: “We’re doing a viral campaign for the gallery” and Liam chips in: “a load of wank, if you ask me”. That said, the soundtrack that first defined their relationship keeps pulling them back together.
Taking its title from Blur’s 1993 album, the film is a pure satirical trip to its era, working best as a testament to the late 1990s, rather than as a believable story of frontman Liam and his weak attempts to make it with his band Headcleaner, his lack of finances being the major cause of the pair’s eventual rift. The scenes involving Steven Mackintosh, Will Merrick and Ian Hart feel laboured and generic (although Hart gives a stonking turn as the band’s agent), but when Whitehouse (a real guitarist) takes to the stage in a live performance, the film gets a shot in the arm, in lucid sequences filmed by cinematographer Tim Sidell.
Strangely, it’s the viral success of the band that finally makes Liam a name, and this leads to the inevitable, and a rather bittersweet, finale for the lovers in this ultimately enjoyable trip down memory lane. MT
OUT ON RELEASE from 4 May 2018