‘The Goob’: Venice Review

Goob Venice Film Still - H 2014

Goob Venice Film Still - H 2014

Although it has some lovely moments and an intense sense of place, this drama lacks coherence and fails to avoid cliches

Writer-director Guy Myhill makes his feature debut with this agrarian drama set in Norfolk’s pumpkin fields, starring Sienna Guillory, Sean Harris and newcomer Liam Walpole

A teenage boy (newcomer Liam Walpole) is torn between loyalty to his family and a restless dissatisfaction with his rural roots in The Goob, a British drama that’s rich in atmosphere but dramatically undernourished and stippled with cliche. A feature debut for writer-director Guy Myhill, who’s made documentaries and shorts in Norfolk, where the film is set, the film’s strong suit is its insider’s feel for the landscape and working-class milieu depicted. However, Myhill’s script picks up plot strands and characters and then casually discards them in a way that’s probably meant to be arty and oblique but often comes across as inattentive. Still, getting a premiere at the Venice Film Festival should give this inarguably striking work a push toward further festivals before it hits the art house circuit.   

Aside from a few scattered examples, like The Go-Between (1970), Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013) or The Scouting Book for Boys (2009), Norfolk doesn’t often play itself in movies. Usually it serves as a location for films set elsewhere, especially ones requiring stately homes and sweeping tidal beaches. So it’s refreshing to see the county with its vaulting skyscapes, scruffy diners and combustible mix of accented locals and immigrant labor featured as the named location for a change. (It was shot around Castle Acre, near Swaffham in the west of the county.) The press notes take pains to emphasize the film’s local credibility by pointing out how many cast and crew members come from the area, and how Myhill’s stories “are completely embedded in his environment, [and] dig deep into the Norfolk psyche.”

Perhaps he’s dug in a little too deep, because as a narrative, The Goob feels like it’s got its feet quagmired in the region’s loamy soil, like its titular protagonist himself, and doesn’t quite know where to go. Sixteen-year-old Goob (Walpole) is first met discarding his school uniform. Clearly, he has no intention of going back to education when the summer finishes, but he doesn’t seem to have many options ahead of him. His mother, (Sienna Guillory, an alumni of the Resident Evil franchise), a coltish-limbed beauty who clearly had Goob when she was little more than a child herself, runs a greasy roadside diner. She’s taken up with local farmer Gene Womack (Sean Harris, Prometheus), a terse, bullish man a violent streak, who seems unaccountably attractive to the local ladies.

Perhaps they’re turned on by his prowess on the local stock-car race circuit. Myhill made a TV documentary a few years ago about the Swaffham Raceway, and perhaps parlayed access to the scene to get some impressive driver’s-view footage on the course. That’s interspersed with evocative magic-hour shots of Goob and his friends eating hot dogs and making out with girls behind the bleachers.

Later on, a bit of joy-riding results in an accident and lands Goob's brother in hospital. This creates a vacancy on the pumpkin farm’s work roster. Goob’s cousin Elliott (Oliver Kennedy) comes to fill the gap, but his penchant for dancing, larking about and wearing women’s clothes, (the last suggesting a gay identity that’s never made explicit), angers Womack and he leaves.

In final stretch, a cohort of non-specific Eastern European farm workers arrive to help with the harvest and Goob strikes up a tentative romance with pixie-ish Eva (Marama Corlett). But, once again, rutting-alpha-male Womack plots to ruin even this small happiness, which just feels repetitious by this point in the story. Meanwhile, a subplot involving another friend of Goob’s (an underused Paul Popplewell) and his girlfriend Mary (played by former S Club 7 singer Hannah Spearritt) barely gets off the ground, suggesting something may have gone awry in the editing suite.

In the end, despite some dreamy cinematography courtesy of DoP Simon Tindall and intriguingly textural electronic score by composer Luke Abbott, the film doesn’t cohere and feels like an assortment of ambitious shorts or at least lovely moments patched roughly together. Hopefully Myhill — and Norfolk — will get another chance to make something more cohesive.

Production companies:A Creative England, BFI Film Fund, BBC Films presentation of an Emu Films, iFeatures production.

Cast:Liam Walpole, Sean Harris, Sienna Guillory, Oliver Kennedy, Marama Corlett, Paul Popplewell, Hannah Spearritt, Joe Copsey, Martin Ferguson

Director: Guy Myhill

Screenwriter: Guy Myhill

Producers: Mike Elliott, Lee Groombridge

Executive producers: Christopher Moll, Steve Jenkins, Christopher Collins, Tristan Goligher

Director of photography: Simon Tindall

Production designer: Ben Myhill

Costume designer: Nigel Egerton

Editor: Adam Biskupski

Composer: Luke Abbott

Sales: The Bureau Films

No rating, 83 minutes