'Modern Life Is Rubbish': Film Review

...and so is this romantic fantasy.
4/27/2018

Daniel Gill's debut focuses on a failing relationship between an aspiring musician and the girlfriend paying their rent.

Like an overcompressed MP3 of High Fidelity played on dollar-store headphones, Daniel Gill's Modern Life Is Rubbish mixes rock-'n'-roll fandom with the disappointments of real relationships and hits more than a few sour notes. The debut for director Gill and screenwriter Philip Gawthorne, the film is full of the signifiers of musical devotion but lacks the hummably acerbic insight of the best music it namechecks. Despite its polished production and pretty leads, the will-they/won't-they London-set romance will not storm the charts Stateside, and may even have trouble attracting attention on video.

Josh Whitehouse plays Liam, the kind of guy who always points out when a band name "works on two levels" and who condescendingly lies that vinyl has a "much richer sound" than CD. When he pulls this stuff on a stranger in a record store, though, Freya Mavor's Natalie is charmed — even though she knows more about Blur's discography than he does. Soon they're a couple — him, a pretty boy full of Top-of-the-Charts enthusiasm; her, wide-eyed with infatuation.

They move in together and frolic in a young-love montage, but as we've already flash-forwarded to the day they will move out separately, we're just waiting for the other drumstick to drop. Turns out that Liam can't hold on to a day job. Though the film does little to convey the passage of time, the grind of rent and bills eventually convinces Nat — whose own dream was to design record covers — to take a soul-sucking job in advertising.

She buys into Liam's belief that rock-stardom is right around the corner, a delusion bolstered by a mysterious bloke (Ian Hart) known only as The Curve — a "sonic alchemist" who is said to have been crucial to innumerable rock careers. Entering the film in a fedora, indoor-sunglasses and the slow-clap of world-weary sarcasm, The Curve establishes in seconds that the film's understanding of the music world is, as he might put it, bollocks. However enthusiastic the script is in defending the magic of physical record media and sneering at the Pandorification of our musical lives, its struggling-songwriter narrative never rings true.

The film's most believable aspect is the sad scene as Natalie packs up her things to move out, dividing up the records and memorabilia, still in love with Liam but unable to tolerate misbehavior that the film doesn't really put across. (Having been nothing worse than a deadbeat and a scold 'til now, Liam throws a violent tantrum in the middle of a fancy event Nat is staging, threatening to get her fired.)

The two go their separate ways, with Natalie finding a suitor more appropriate to her newly posh lifestyle. And then, puzzlingly, this mopey film shifts gears, showing us that it intends to see if it can bring the lovers back together again. Closing scenes drip with treacle, as Liam follows the unstated life advice given by The Curve: "You already know what you need to do." If Nat falls for the rom-com Big Romantic Gesture Liam comes up with, she probably deserves to pay his rent for the rest of their lives.

Production company: Serotonin Films
Distributor: Cleopatra Entertainment
Cast: Josh Whitehouse, Freya Mavor, Tom Riley, Daisy Bevan, Ian Hart
Director: Daniel Gill
Screenwriter: Philip Gawthorne
Producer: Dominic Norris
Executive producers: Christopher Figg, Peter Hampden, Simon Laub
Director of photography: Tim Sidell
Production designer: Charlotte Pearson
Costume designer: Hannah Glossop
Editor: Peter Christelis
Composer: Orlando Roberton
Casting director: Alice Searby

103 minutes