Day of the Flowers: Edinburgh Review

Middling, mainly Cuba-set Brit-pic awkwardly combines romance, comedy, drama and politics.

Ballet-superstar Carlos Acosta's feature-film debut offers a British comedy-drama set in Cuba.

His role may be secondary, but ballet-superstar Carlos Acosta's quietly promising feature-film debut is the saving grace of would-be crowdpleaser Day of the Flowers, a broad-strokes comedy-drama about Scottish sisters discovering family secrets on a visit to Cuba. After bowing at Edinburgh to largely tepid reception, this blandly-handled affair may - like director John Robert's last outing, BBC doggie tale Station Jim (2001) - prove a better fit for domestic television than theaters or festivals. Overseas, the presence of Acosta will be the main selling-point, though the dancer's admirers may be disappointed to find that the Havana-born star's feet remain - much like the movie itself - largely earthbound.

The main problem is Eirene Houston's script (all of previous credits are small-screen) with its two-dimensional characterizations, functional-at-best dialogue and over-reliance on heated exchanges. Most of the latter involve socially-engaged Rosa (Eva Birthistle) and her fashionista sibling Ailie (Charity Wakefield), a chalk-and-cheese duo with barely a trace of family resemblance. That the pair are far from close is evident from the larkishly-handled opening, as they squabble over the decision by their stepmother (quick cameo from Scottish veteran Phyllis Logan) to convert their recently-deceased father's ashes into a golf-themed ornament.

Making off with the mortal remains during the funeral reception - a scene played for clumsy laughs - the idealistic Rosa decides to take them to Cuba, the country where her Socialist parents regularly spent time in the 1970s helping the revolutionary struggle. Rosa's long-suffering pal Conway (Bryan Dick) accompanies her, and Ailie impulsively decides to tag along - primarily attracted by the prospect of a sunny seaside holiday. Predictably enough, both sisters find the journey an eye-opening experience, as their quest to track down the exact whereabouts of their late mother's remains - they hope to pour both sets of ashes into a particular river on the feast-day that provides the movie's title - brings them into contact with various facets of Cuban society.

Amid much culture-clash confusion, there's no shortage of romantic possibilities for the attractive sisters - the statuesque Ailie displays her assets in a succession of flashily over-the-top, revealing outfits, and nice-guy ballet-teacher Tomas (Acosta) gently tries to entice the highly-strung Rosa out of her politically-correct cocoon. But as the lasses gradually piece together the truth about what went on three decades before, the complications, ironies and revelations messily tangle into a telenovela-style stew of emotions.

On the plus side, Day of the Flowers makes fair use of its locations, cinematographer Vernon Layton garnering some alluringly atmospheric backdrops with his 35mm cameras (the picture was projected digitally at Edinburgh) and imparting some flavors of a fascinatingly contradictory land. Stephen Warbeck's score, however, underlines every mood and emotion with excessive volume and zeal - typical of Roberts' general difficulty in finding the right tone for his material in this belated third feature after two family-focused 1990s outings: Warner Bros co-production The War of the Buttons (1994) and Dreamworks' parrot-centric Paulie (1998).

In Day of the Flowers, performances are generally energetic - occasionally to the point of exaggeration, the actors' efforts not helped by some flat post-synch sound. Thankfully Acosta, exuding a commandingly feline poise, provides a welcome contrast from the general air of frenetic strain in his second big-screen appearance - three years after a segment in 2009 portmanteau-pic New York, I Love You opposite Natalie Portman. Now 39, the famously athletic Cuban shows enough in terms of acting chops to suggest that he might be able to take some further steps in this direction - though hopefully he'll find scripts more tailored to his skills and worthier of his talents.

Venue: Edinburgh International Film Festival, June 23, 2012.
Production company: Rogue Elephant
Cast: Eva Birthistle, Charity Wakefield, Carlos Acosta, Bryan Dick, Christopher Simpson
Director: John Roberts
Screenwriter: Eirene Houston
Producer: Jonathan Rae
Director of photography: Vernon Layton
Production designer: Andrew Sanders
Costume designer: Leonie Hartard
Music: Stephen Warbeck
Editors: David Freeman, John Wilson
Sales Agent: Rogue Elephant, London
No rating, 102 minutes.