Crying With Laughter -- Film Review

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EDINBURGH -- There's a long tradition of decidedly non-comic films dealing with comedy and comedians -- "The King of Comedy" et al -- and the sparkly engaging "Crying With Laughter" is a welcome addition to the list. There's actually no shortage of belly-laughs in this tale of a dysfunctional stand-up who finds himself dragged into a violent revenge-plot, but this is essentially pretty dark, adult-oriented fare, a psychological drama/thriller marbled with occasional welcome light relief.

The result is an unusually full-blooded combination of flavors which, outside its native Scotland, might not appear an easy commercial "sell." But this is just the kind of ambitious, accessible enterprise that could find receptive audiences at home and overseas. It does represent a highly promising debut from writer-director Justin Molotnikov and showcases what should be a star-making performance from Stephen McCole.

Previously best known for supporting turns in films such as "Rushmore", "Orphans" and "Stone of Destiny," plus cult small-screen sitcom "High Times," McCole projects exactly the right mix of beefy blowhard bravado and self-tormenting vulnerability as swaggering funnyman Joey Frisk.

One of the leading lights in the Edinburgh stand-up world -- the film makes consistently nifty use of eclectic locations in and around the photogenic city -- Joey, in his mid-30s, is on the verge of breaking big. (McCole performed actual stand-up gigs in character as preparation, and on this evidence he could well have the makings of a lucrative stage sideline.)

Joey's dreams of Stateside exposure are imperiled by his decidedly chaotic private-life -- essentially one long, coke-fueled debauch -- and his confessional/egotistical technique of near-instantly converting his daily experiences into fresh material.

The latter leads to a particularly unfortunate joke about a chance encounter with a long-forgotten former school friend (Malcolm Shields), a pal who just happens to be in the audience. This innocuous-seeming flub yields dire consequences for Joey, who becomes unwilling accomplice to kidnap -- and worse.

With so much of British cinema let down by writing contrivance, implausibility and melodrama, it's refreshing to find a screenplay which, while by no means avoiding such ploys, places them within a coherent and justifiable narrative structure. The film is around an elaborate stand-up routine, one delivered by a bruised-and-battered Joey, to a crowd that he knows includes a leading American talent-spotter. Thus a series of flashbacks illustrate incidents that might perhaps have been slightly exaggerated in Joey's retelling.

This structural conceit (which builds to a suitably envelope-pushing punch line) gives the picture a momentum that proves unexpectedly compelling. Indeed, this quickly turns into an old-fashioned 'page-turner' of a story populated by believably flawed, scarred individuals with whom, for all their faults, it's not hard to sympathize.

Molotnikov's well paced, no-nonsense direction yields strong performances all round even if, from the first seconds to the final fade, it's clear that this is very much McCole's show.

Venue: Edinburgh International Film Festival (British Gala)
Production co.: Frisky Films (Edinburgh), Synchronicity Films Ltd. (Glasgow), Wellington Films (Nottingham)
Cast: Stephen McCole, Malcolm Shields, Andrew Neil, Jo Hartley, Laura Keenan
Director: Justin Molotnikov
Screenwriter: Justin Molotnikov
Producers: Claire Mundell, Rachel Robey, Alastair Clark
Executive producers: Robbie Allen, Suzanne Alizart, Ewan Angus
Director of photography: Martin Radich
Production designer: Mike McLoughlin
Music: Lorne Balfe
Costume designer: Anna Robins
Editor: Gary Scott
Sales: Synchronicity, Glasgow
No rating, 93 minutes
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