Neil Young’s Film Lounge – 16 Years of Alcohol



UK 2003 : Richard JOBSON : 102 mins

Frankie is a young man with a somewhat troublesome start in life, and early on he discovers the two sides of alcohol: the sweetness and the hangover Early in life he realises his fathers betrayal, which burns itself into his psyche, influencing his choices later in life. Thus, Frankie does not become a nice young man, instead a detestable fighter and bully. After 16 years under the sign of alcohol, he decides to break free and looks for assistance and it goes quite well for a while!
(from official Troms 2004 Film Festival programme)

The first hour or so of Jobsons much-touted debut feature isn’t too bad at all, as Edinburgh bad-boy Frankie Mac (Kevin McKidd) emerges as an unexpectedly articulate, sensitive and intelligent leader of a four-strong street-fighting crew. Kubricks A Clockwork Orange is one obvious influence which Jobson doesn’t try to hide, and another is Gillies MacKinnons less well-known 1995 Small Faces Jobson even casts that films Laura Fraser as Frankies girlfriend Helen, a sculpture-student who works part-time in a record shop.

But whereas MacKinnon admittedly attempting less ambitious stuff than Jobson firmly rooted his film in convincing period detail and atmosphere, its never easy to work out when the different sections of 16 Years of Alcohol are taking place. As Frankie leaves behind his street-fighting days, its clear that some time has elapsed – but the particulars of fashion, music, hair and politics never seem to hang together. And unlike in, say, Velvet Goldminethis temporal dislocation doesn’t add anything to our understanding of the story Jobson is trying to tell.

Instead, it ends up feeling more like sloppiness a trait which is even more problematic in the films second half, as Frankie moves on to another girlfriend, aspiring actress Mary (Susan Lynch). Lynch and McKidd do their best with the material they’re given, but both face an uphill struggle as Jobson quickly slides into contrivance and melodrama the circumstances behind their break-up are quite unforgivably corny, rendering the blood-spattered aftermath ridiculous rather than tragic.

By this stage, however, 16 Years of Alcohol has long outstayed its welcome, Frankies pseudo-intellectual voice-over (Where is love, when the past starts to leak into your heart?) dragging the film into a grating realm of self-indulgent self-regard. A little of his overwrought bootboy poetics goes a long way: Stop wallowing in your own story! he’s told at one point, and many viewers will whole-heartedly agree with his accuser the director (Jim Carter) of an wildly artsy-farty theatre-group which Frankie joins as part of his attempts to grow up and leave behind his violent impulses.

These also include coaching a youth football team, and participating in a self-help group that we presume is Alcoholics Anonymous except, in contradiction of the films title, it isn’t drink but violence to which Frankie admits addiction. Few of these scenes make much sense, either on their own terms or as part of a wider narrative which moves, inevitably, towards a finale of anguished martyrdom that’s as hollow as much that’s gone before.

16 Years of Alcohol isnt without its strong points McKidd, Lynch and Fraser (who, like Shirley Henderson, often ends up in duff British films) do their best, and Stuart Sinclair Blyth makes a strong impression in his relatively brief appearances as Frankies psychotic former gang-mate Miller. Theres much to like about John Rhodes cinematography, the films look showing the influence of Jobsons mentor Wong Kar-Wai with stylised visuals, freeze-frames, chiaroscuro lighting. But all of this counts for nothing if its placed as it is here – at the service of such an insufferably phoney-baloney script.

3rd February, 2004
(seen 14th January : Verdensteatret Cinema, Troms Troms International Film Festival)

click here for a full list of reviewed films from the Troms International Film Festival 2004

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

by Neil Young