Directed by David Blair.
Starring Timothy Spall, Juno Temple, Hayley Squires, Matt Ryan and Susan Lynch.
Ria (Juno Temple) and Joseph (Timothy Spall) are both in Blackpool to escape. She’s trying to get away from her abusive boyfriend, he’s trying to escape memories of the death of his wife. When their paths cross, she won’t leave him alone and an initially grudging friendship develops. But what they’re trying to leave behind them just won’t go away.
Timothy Spall’s in his second odd couple movie in as many weeks. Ian Paisley to Colm Meaney’s Martin McGuinness in The Journey last week, he’s now a deeply depressed widower finding solace in the bottle against the shabby backdrop of Blackpool in Away. And it’s another film that relies heavily on its two leading players to keep the audience on side.
Somewhere along the line, somebody made the comparison between Away and Lost In Translation – and it seems to have stuck. But whatever its origin, it misses the point because once you set aside the age difference between the two central characters, the similarity between Sofia Coppola’s 2003 delicacy dissolves into nothing. If it’s reminiscent of anything, it’s Neal Jordan’s Mona Lisa, with its seaside setting, unlikely hero and young girl on the run.
Blackpool may be described – albeit ironically here – as “the Vegas of the north”, but here it’s the bleakest and loneliness of places, with a chilly, unwelcoming sea equally cold sky and a decidedly soulless atmosphere. It’s oddly close to being deserted and, although its famous lights are frequently in evidence – from the magical ones that Ria (Temple) enjoys when she first arrives, to the more sinister side she experiences later – the focus is on the more seedy side of the city. Yet it lacks edginess and discomfort.
The main problem with Away is its storytelling. There’s nothing wrong with the essential story, but the way it’s told is a complete turn-off. It constantly jumps around from flashback to present day and back again – and always, but always, interrupts a scene to go back in time just when we’re starting to get interested. At which point, it loses the audience. Its sense of timing is way off.
What the film does have – and the director should be thankful for them – is a strong cast, especially Spall and Temple. They’re what keeps the audience going and, as the film progresses, they become the only reason for watching. They are both terrific – Spall as the unlikely hero, weighed down by the burden of his memories, and Temple as the feisty but vulnerable younger woman. Hayley Squires puts in an appearance in her first role since I, Daniel Blake, this time as Temple’s sister, apparently fragile but with more about her than meets the eye.
There’s a recurring line in the film about good stuff balancing out the bad, an unexpected and rather facile message from a film with such a bleak view of the world. It’s another example of how the film doesn’t really engage sufficiently with its audience to tell it anything, philosophical or otherwise. This is off-season Blackpool – and an off-season film.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★