Crying with Laughter, 2009.
Written and Directed by Justin Molotnikov.
Starring Stephen McCole, Malcolm Shields, Andrew Neil, Jo Hartley, Micaiah Dring, Niall Greig Fulton and Laura Keenan.
A rising stand-up comedian finds himself taking a bad trip down memory lane after a chance meeting with an old school friend.
Imagine Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy directed by Shane Meadows from an Irvine Welsh screenplay and you’d probably have something similar to Crying with Laughter, a promising first feature from Scottish writer-director Justin Molotnikov. The winner of the BAFTA Scotland Best Feature Film Award back in 2009, Crying with Laughter is really a film of two halves, starting out as an engrossing character study before taking a sharp turn into sinister stalker territory to deliver a decent psychological thriller that manages to add something fresh to its somewhat familiar plot.
The film centres on aspiring stand up comedian, Joey Frisk (Stephen McCole), who has been making quite a name for himself on the Edinburgh club circuit with his Frankie Boyle-esque routine of foul-mouthed gags and scathing humour (for stand-up fans there’s some really good material here, including a hilarious routine about a threesome). In his professional life Joy is on the verge of his big break with interest from a number of respected comedy agents, but this comes at a high price with his personal life lying in tatters. Fuelled by a diet of booze, coke and pills, Joey is in debt to his landlord and facing eviction, while his fast living lifestyle is driving a wedge between him, his ex-wife and his young daughter.
Approaching the most important week of his career, a chance meeting with old school friend Frank (Malcolm Shields) sets in motion a series of events that will force Joey to confront his demons, or push him even further towards the edge. You see, ex-special forces man Frank isn’t quite all that he seems and his friendly hounding of his old pal hides a dark and dangerous edge, one that soon sees Joey under arrest for the attempted murder of his landlord. After losing his home, Joey takes up an offer to stay at Frank’s, who suggests that his partner Collette (Micaiah Dring) will provide Joey with an alibi for the night of the attack. All Frank asks in return is for Joey to accompany him to a ‘school reunion’, where his ulterior motive is finally revealed and the pair become embroiled in a kidnapping that forces them both to confront the darkest secrets of their past.
To give away more of the plot would do a disservice to the film, which takes a number of twists and turns along the way to its eventual conclusion. It’s certainly not perfect; there are more than a few plot holes and loose ends but this is more than made up for by its suspenseful storytelling, taut pacing and fine cinematography that uses Edinburgh’s twisting back alleys, grimy nightclubs and dark corners to really help establish the mood and tone of the piece. For a low-budget piece, Crying with Laughter is visually impressive but the film’s main strength is in its engaging and well-developed characters, all of whom are expertly realised by a strong cast.
Best known north of the border for his role in the Scottish comedy drama series High Times, McCole – who also boasts a number of supporting credits in the likes of My Name is Joe, Rushmore and Band of Brothers – is exceptional as stand-up Joey, delivering some genuinely hilarious material and succeeding in the rather difficult task of making the audience sympathise with a character who, for all intents and purposes, is actually a bit of a twat. Meanwhile Shields (Death Defying Acts) embeds in Frank a simmering intensity reminiscent of Sexy Beast’s Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), and these two leads are complimented by effective turns from supporting players such as Andrew Neil (Young Adam) and Shane Meadows regular Jo Hartley (Dead Man’s Shoes, This Is England).
Along with its BAFTA win and a Scotland-only broadcast on BBC Two, Crying with Laughter was well received at a number of festivals including Edinburgh and SXSW and will be looking to extend this nationwide with a home video release here in the UK. As a debut feature it reminded me of Christopher Nolan’s Following and while I’m by not trying to suggest that Molotnikov will go on to enjoy anywhere close to the same levels of success, he’s certainly managed to get off to a fairly solid start.
Crying with Laughter is out now on DVD.