Neil Young’s Film Lounge – House!
UK 2000, dir. Julian Kemp, stars Kelly MacDonald, Jason Hughes
It takes quite a lot for a film to offend this reviewer, but House! managed it in spades. It isn’t violent, or especially sexy, or cruel, or foul-mouthed – although far too many jokes rely on swear words and little else – or politically dodgy, or anything like that. It’s not even the fact that the title is nicked from Steve Miner’s 1986 cheapo cult horror film with William Katt, or that it includes an exclamation mark, or that it’s perhaps the most obvious title you could possibly have for a film about bingo. Nothing to do with any of that.
The reason I find House! so offensive is this: it is a film which asks cinema audiences to feel sorry for the closure of a bingo hall. A bingo hall which – the cheek of it astounds me even as I write about it – was once itself a cinema! For those who have forgotten, in the 1970s and 1980s market forces cut a swathe through Britain’s wonderful network of small independent cinemas, and the ones which escaped the bulldozers all seemed to end up as bingo halls. And now, 20 years later, those bingo halls are themselves threatened, by the massive new purpose built facilities run by Gala, Riva and the like. No doubt sad for the people who work in the smaller bingo halls, but that’s the way of the world, as those of us who loved those old movie houses found to our sorrow and cost. An extra irony is that House! was funded in part by lottery money, the arrival of the lottery having done very few favours to the bingo business.
Ideological objections aside, House! is a pretty sorry excuse for a comedy, trotting out that knackered old David-vs-Goliath story that has plagued British cinema for decades. In this variation, Kelly MacDonald and Jason Hughes work at the bingo hall operated by veteran Freddie Jones, a bingo hall which is falling to bits and faces certain closure thanks to the arrival across the road of a new mega-bingo palace. Through a series of contrivances and coincidences, not to mention a ludicrous ESP subplot in which MacDonald finds she ‘knows’ the bingo numbers before they come out of the machine, it appears that the bingo hall might just have a chance to avoid the inevitable – only for MacDonald’s grasping auntie, Miriam Margolyes, to arrive on the scene and try to scupper everything.
MacDonald, Jones and Margolyes deserve much better than this flimsily written, haphazardly constructed mess. The same cannot really be said for Mossie Smith, who soon wears out her welcome as another bingo-hall employee, all rolling eyes and braying voice. A little of Smith goes a long way, but unfortunately we get rather a lot of her in this film. The ending makes very little sense, given all that has led up to it, but then again, the film does end, for which we should all be very grateful.
For the many other films as bad as this (and worse) check out our Diorama of Dishonour
by Neil Young