I’ll Be There

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

I’LL BE THERE

2/10

UK 2003 : Craig FERGUSON : 105 mins

Teen classical-singing sensation Charlotte Church has made an entertainingly rocky transition to adulthood over the last couple of years – she’s kept British tabloids happy with her spats (mostly with her manager mother), tantrummy strops, and a controversial romance with an ‘unsuitable’ boyfriend. It hasn’t harmed her career, of course: her first pop single ‘Opera Song (Brand New World)’ was a worldwide dancefloor smash. But while her choice of musical collaborator Darren Tate (aka ‘Jurgen Vries’) was inspired, her judgement seems to have gone awol in regards to film – especially if you imagine what, say, John Waters might have done with Church’s real-life rollercoaster tale.

Instead, Church has taken the disastrous step of entrusting her movie debut to past-it Scots stand-up comic Craig Ferguson – in addition to writing and directing, Ferguson casts himself in the lead as Paul Kerr, a washed-up eighties rock-star living a life of decadent, debauched seclusion in rural ‘Wales’ (visibly the Home Counties of England). Unbeknown to Kerr, a brief fling with groupie Rebecca (Jemma Redgrave) back in his 1987 heyday produced a child – Olivia (Church), who’s been kept in the dark about the identity of her famous parent. But when Rebecca (arbitrarily) decides to spill the beans, Olivia sets out to make up for lost time – and also, perhaps, take the first steps on her own musical career.

Though often billed as having the ‘Voice of an Angel’, Church has found herself in a devil of a bad movie. This is British comedy not far off its worst: bland, boring, inert, sentimental, clunky, contrived, riddled with cliches and boasting perhaps one or two decent gags hidden carefully inside that bloated 104-minute running-time. The only participant who emerges with credit is Buffy refugee Anthony Stewart Head, who makes the most of his nothing role as a slimy record-company executive. Church, meanwhile, does seems to be able to act, but it’s rather hard to tell given the general shoddiness of the enterprise.

Ferguson’s handling of the material is so MOR, so thoroughly old-fashioned, it’s as if his movie was made by the squarest character on view: the dodgy-accented Redgrave’s Rebecca (just as the supposedly wild Banger Sisters seemed something of which Susan Sarandon’s repressed housewife would have approved) His screenplay, meanwhile, is even worse – like Shane Meadows in Once Upon A Time in the Midlands, he seems to think that humour consists of giving his characters silly names and pointlessly oddball quirks (Joss Ackland plays ‘Evil Edmonds’, leader of a band called the ‘Beelzebops’). And there really is no excuse for describing Rebecca a Kajagoogoo fan in 1987, several years after that band’s fifteen nanoseconds of fame.

I’ll Be There, its title stolen from the Motown song which we hear mangled in various styles (right through to the inevitable on-stage-freeze-frame ‘uplifting’ finale), is a sad indictment of British cinema. How do people as inept as Ferguson get the money? This isn’t so much a movie, as a tediously protracted excuse for Ferguson to indulge his fantasies that he is (A) a rock star (B) an actor (C) a film-maker and (D) funny. He is sadly deluded on all counts.

9th July, 2003
(seen 5th June: Showcase, Dudley)

For other films rated 1/10 and 2/10 check out our Diorama of Dishonour

by Neil Young