Influenced by the playfully expressionist likes of Wes Anderson and Jared Hess, but without the charm or dramatic thrust.
Bryan O’Neil’s quaint comedy-drama focuses on the relationships between four residents of an apartment block in South West London. Influenced by the playfully expressionist likes of Wes Anderson and Jared Hess, Booked Out successfully embellishes the attributes of the indie folk sub-genre but in turn suffers from a lack of empathetic characters and dramatic thrust.
Instead of exploring the isolation and indifference that haunts two of its central characters, the film dwells on the blossoming relationship between young neighbours, Jacob (Rollo Weeks) and Ailidh (Mirren Burke). As a result, it is riddled with flaccid rom-com conventions, stiff performances and dialogue better suited to a slushy TV movie.
Jacob is a middle class graduate living with his late friend’s manically depressed ex-girlfriend, Jacqueline (Claire Garvey). Suffocated by Jacqueline’s depression, Jacob becomes friends with a girl upstairs, Ailidh, a writer who secretly photographs other residents as they come and go from the block.
Only when their relationship begins to pose a threat to Jacqueline’s mental wellbeing do things finally get interesting and the characters are forced to address their evolving feelings for each other. With the 78-year-old Sylvia Syms as the dotty old lady living between them, the characters plod through the threadbare first hour, desperately seeking a way out and something to say that isn’t desperately ironic.
Aesthetically, Booked Out embraces vintage/retro insignia (Ailidh uses a typewriter and Polaroid camera instead of a laptop and digital), folk music and worn sixties fashions. While a lot of effort has clearly got into achieving this look, it fails to gel with the darker, more interesting elements of the screenplay that are submerged in a sea of boho eccentricity.
Jacqueline’s anguish over the death of her boyfriend and her growing feelings towards Jacob are areas that would have enriched the film had they been explored further.
The film is at its most interesting when it breaks into a couple of surreal nightmare sequences, displaying a knack for unnerving imagery that suggests it might have operated better as a straight-laced realist drama a la Andrea Arnold.
Only in the final act does it venture into a darker, revelatory and more exciting territory where in which characters instantly appear more interesting. But it’s all too little too late.
A British drama with a not too enticing concept.
Painful first hour with excruciating dialogue and cringe-worthy performances.
Clichéd and often wooden but with some interesting flourishes and a satisfying conclusion.