Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Marc Evans is back -- with HUNKY DORY, a dreamy, delicious, Tempest-tossed musical

Remember Marc Evans? TrustMovies does because Evans, a Welsh filmmaker, is one of his favorites.  (Yes, he does seem to have a lot of those, but, gheesh! -- there's so much barely-recognized talent out there whose work ought to be better known.) Evans is the fellow who, back in 2002, gave us My Little Eye, still one of the most terrifying, ugly and oddly subtle and surprising horror movies ever made. In 2006 appeared Snowcake, a beau-tifully cast and acted drama that reached for and actually grasped a bit of profundity with humor and sadness. Now comes yet another movie, as different from those earlier examples as you might think possible. HUNKY DORY is a kind of genre-mash of nostalgia, high-school, coming-of-age, musical and Shakespeare's The Tempest.

What makes the movie most special is the way in which Mr Evans, shown at left, and screenwriter Laurence Coriat have woven their story into an impressionistic set of scenes that quickly capture us and then slowly build into something so delectable and special and yes, odd, that we're never quite certain what the whole thing is. And yet we love it. And we're lost in it. This is especially true of how the filmmakers and cast manage the "musical numbers," which are not quite like anything I've seen in any other film. Sometimes made from extremely brief snippets, other times lengthy and melodious, the songs -- well-known works by major, popular musicians are sung and played by the cast itself -- weave in and out of the story and are all part of the musical presentation of The Tempest that a free-wheeling instructor (well-played by Minnie Driver) is overseeing.

God knows, The Tempest seems to lend itself well to so many different kinds of movies (and movie-makers), and here it works about as well as I have seen (other than when the play is simply done as itself). Among its themes are those of growth, freedom and autonomy, which fit the high school/coming-of-age milieu like a glove, especially where Caliban is concerned, played here by the least likely type of high-school student you might imagine (foreground, below).

Among the quite large cast of characters are the kids, their families, teachers and administrators, so we get everything from family problems to bullying to love stories, both gay and straight (in which the object of desire is likely not to return that longed-for affection).

Ms Driver, above, is the biggest "name" in a generally un-starry cast, though Aneurin Barnard (below and lately seen in Citadel) further impresses here (and a lovely voice he's got, too!). Every actor, in fact, seems well-chosen and performs quite up-to-snuff.

A special word should also be said for Robert Pugh, below, who is excellent as the school's stern headmaster, who must suddenly double in the role of Prospero. Mr. Pugh does a lovely job all-round.

Though we may imagine, as the film rolls along, that we are watching mere narrative done with unusual class and creativity, at the end, just prior to the credit roll, we are told what happened to many of the folk we've been watching. This comes as both a shock and a sweet pleasure, for what has seemed a kind of joyous school-time fantasy suddenly takes on added reality and heft.

Impressionistic, beautiful, graceful, funny and moving, the movie is sort of sui generis. Too unusual for mainstream, too dreamy for the masses, how the hell it works so well remains something of a mystery. But I doubt we shall see its like again. (I hope we'll see and hear more from Mr. Evans, though, and soon.)

Hunky Dory, from Variance Films and running 109 minutes, opens this Friday, March 22, in a limited theatrical run here in New York City at the AMC Loews Village VII and in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Music Hall 3, as well as in several other major cities.  To see all currently scheduled scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, click here, then scroll down.

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