Direction: Ben Wheatley
Ben Wheatley is known for his subversive wittiness and distinct filmmaking style, aspects that earned him not just general acclaim but also some cult status with works such as Sightseers (2013), High-Rise (2016), and A Field in England (2014). His new film, Happy New Year Colin Burstead is nothing we haven’t seen before, depicting one of those nerve-wracking family reunions with equivalent portions of love and hate. Despite the familiarity of the tone and the slightly fussy dynamics, it still punches some impactful hooks through moderately uncomfortable situations.
During the first minutes, Colin Burstead (Neil Maskell) occupies the center of the stage, as he welcomes his relatives to a luxurious country manor he rented to celebrate New Year's Eve. As you are probably picturing in your head, the film includes a bunch of peculiar characters that, moved by assorted conflicts and disputes, take the party in unplanned directions. The principal focus of tension here is Colin’s brother, David (Sam Riley), who arrives from Berlin with his German girlfriend Hannah (Alexandra Maria Lara). Invited in secret by his naive sister Gini (Hayley Squires), David finds his brother and parents, Sandy (Doon Mackichan) and Gordon (Bill Paterson), still disgusted with the fact that he carelessly abandoned wife and children to embrace a new life in Germany.
If the pugnacious Colin argues with his father about financial predicaments, David charms his mother by playing on the piano a sentimental song he wrote for her. It’s nothing but a game of power, where everyone claims attention. The coolest figure is uncle Bertie (Charles Dance), an eccentric who dresses in woman’s clothes and nurtures a genuine tenderness for everyone. He was the only one that made me laugh.
Commanding a handheld camera, Wheatley orchestrated this comedy with delirium-free, improvised-like routines that bring it closer to the experimental genre. Moreover, he consolidated his script with additional material by the cast. Some of the film’s passages struggle with unevenness and the watching is more relaxed and fluid after the sometimes arduous task of identifying who is who.