Funny Cow

 

starstar

 


Good actors and an interesting storyline fail to avert disaster in a misjudged film.

 
Funny Cow

Maxine peaks

 

Watching this film after its release meant that I had already seen reviews that praised the lead performance by Maxine Peake but were rather mixed regarding the overall quality of the film. However, nothing that I had read had prepared me for a film so strange, nor indeed for one so disastrously inept. Funny Cow was written by Tony Pitts who also plays a role in it and is credited (as is Peake) as an executive producer and it is Pitts, rather than director Adrian Shergold, who must take most of the blame for the film's failure.

 

There is, in fact, considerable potential in the unusual story told here. It obverts the kind of tale offered in such works as Pygmalion and Educating Rita in that the central figure, known only as Funny Cow, is a working-class girl who, aspiring to a better life, breaks away from her background but ultimately decides that she needs to embrace who she was rather than what has become. It still means that this girl from the North has to overcome the horrors of her past - an abusive father followed by an equally abusive husband (the latter being the character played by Pitts). Nevertheless, on taking up a role as female comic in clubs in the 1970s, she finds that living with a new partner in the form of Angus (Paddy Considine), the somewhat intellectual owner of a bookshop, is leading her away from being her real self.

 

As writer, Pitts fails to find an apt style or consistent tone. In addition, despite Peake's skills, he is unable to create a central figure that we can fully understand and feel for. Lack of self-esteem and the period setting (the film ranges from a 1950s childhood into the 1980s) don't fully make us see why Funny Cow should put up with her husband for so long, while a despairing comic in decline (Lenny, a figure with a touch of Osborne's Archie Rice played expertly by Alun Armstrong) seems a figure more likely to discourage her performing ambitions than somebody to strengthen her determination. If Considine is miscast as Angus, the writing of the role in any case totally fails to convince. Furthermore, the film moves unpersuasively between a realism that is oddly lacking in real grit visually and moments that go beyond naturalism in more ways than one.

 

Two instances from the soundtrack, however small, signify how the film gets it wrong: just as The Red Balloon (1956) seems an unlikely film to be screening in a cinema in a scene set in the 1970s, the song 'Mule Train' belongs essentially to an earlier decade than the one in which it is featured and it seems nonsensical when an aria from La Wally, which appears to represent Angus's posh world, is actually heard over a sequence involving Funny Cow's alcoholic mother (Lindsey Coulson). The politically incorrect gags featured in the club scenes have worried some yet they are undoubtedly believable in context, but so much here leaves one a mere observer because the narrative never finds its feet.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Maxine Peake, Paddy Considine, Tony Pitts, Lindsey Coulson, Jim Moir, Kevin Eldon, Christine Bottomley, Stephen Graham, Alun Armstrong, Macy Shackleton, Ashton Steele, John Bishop, Vic Reeves, Corinne Bailey Rae.

 

Dir Adrian Shergold, Pro Kevin Proctor and Mark Vennis, Screenplay Tony Pitts, Ph Tony Slater Ling, Pro Des Candida Otton, Ed Tania Reddin, Music Richard Hawley, Costumes John Krausa.

 

POW Films/MovieHouse Entertainment/Gizmo Films/Head Gear/LipSync-Entertainment One.
102 mins. UK. 2017. Rel: 20 April 2018. Cert. 15.