Neil Young’s Film Lounge – A Room For Romeo Brass

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

A Room For Romeo Brass

5/10

UK 1999, dir. Shane Meadows, stars Andrew Shim, Ben Marshall

A Room For Romeo Brass features a central character who performs magic tricks, seldom an encouraging sign in a film and usually indicative of a director who’s striving for what could be called ‘quirky realism’ – seasoning the dour grimess of his characters’ lives with a hint of the unpredictable and the weird. Sure enough, Meadows has another character working in a shop called ‘Jean’s Jeans,’ done out in Western bar-room style and plopped, somewhat unconvincingly, in the middle of a drab Nottingham suburb, and another so devoted to his job as a bus driver he’s got a huge stained-glass-effect image of a coach across his front windows.

It’s that kind of film, and Meadows is that kind of director, as patronising to his characters as he is to his audience. He pops up not once but twice in cameo roles, as a chip shop worker and as a hospital porter, presumably two different characters but both of them obnoxiously ‘endearing’ motormouths, and does everything but wink straight at the camera. Superficially self-deprecating in interviews, this film makes it clear Meadows in fact believes every word of the media’s hype about him being British cinema’s brightest hope, whereas the evidence on display here suggests he’s more of an opportunistic chancer, the right face in the right place at the right time.

Take that title. As titles go, A Room For Romeo Brass is a corker. But, by the end of the film, I was irritated by the fact that, if there had been any explanation of it in the film, Meadows had seen fit to leave it on the cutting-room floor. I suspect that there’s probably quite a lot else on that particular floor, as Romeo Brass feels like an under-developed series of sketches for a much longer film, or perhaps even a series of films – or, more plausibly, a six-part TV serial.

Romeo Brass (Andrew Shim) turns out to be a podgy, precocious 11-year-old, who lives with his mother and sister on a Nottingham council estate. He’s best mate is kid-next-door Gavin, a.k.a. Knock Knock, a.k.a. Knocks, who limps as a result of an unspecified osteopathic problem. Ben Marshall is fine as Knocks, but it’s Shim who manages to dominate the entire film as the stroppily resilient Romeo, utterly convincing as he switches between vulnerability and aggression. In one particularly powerful scene he confronts his runaway dad (the wonderful Frank Harper) and angrily tells him off, then tearfully seeks solace with Knocks, and I’m struggling to remember a child actor so effortlessly and totally in control of his talent and his material.

Romeo and Knocks’ friendship – and the audience’s patience – is soon tested by the arrival on the scene of the volatile Morell, a child-like but dangerous twentysomething who rapidly sets his romantic sights on Romeo’s teenage sister Ladene. Paddy Considine’s antics as Morell are more of an extended audition piece than an actual performance, and it’s a sign of Meadows’ immaturity that Considine is indulged to such a disastrous degree. Roping the lads into his disastrous attempts at wooing, Morell blames Knocks for his subsequent humiliation and goes further and further off the map, driving a wedge between Romeo and Knocks, who becomes temporarily bedridden following a crucial operation.

It’s at this stage that Meadows starts losing his grip on the material, signalled by an increasing reliance on wordless scenes accompanied by pop tracks. He calls to mind the German film critic’s put-down of Wim Wenders – “Children are marvellous, aren’t they… Women are strange aren’t they… Let’s play another record…” The film’s most effective scenes are the ones which hover just at the edge of violence – the showdown between Harper and Considine with Shim, caught between unsatisfactory father figures, looking on, is a brilliantly tense character study – but Morell’s final descent into actual violence rings false, as does the awkwardly upbeat scene which ends the film.

Meadows’ main problem could be one of carelessness. It’s not exactly a hanging offence that, in the closing credits, he somehow extends the title of Ian Brown’s track Corpses into Corpses In Their Mouths, but there’s no excuse for billing Edwin Starr as ‘Edwin Star.’ A little more checking, a little more thought, a little more care… But, when you’re the great hope of British cinema, who cares about the details?

by Neil Young