A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 294 – Comfort and Joy (1984)

Comfort and Joy (1984) – December 19th, 2010

This is by far one of the oddest Christmas movies we own. It’s odder than The Ref by a great deal and it’s got far less shouting, though it’s got plenty of destruction. It’s not about the Christmas spirit or presents or Santa or anything like that. It takes place at Christmas, and it ends on Christmas afternoon with a nice pudding and the satisfaction of things being a little better in the world than they were a few days before. But mostly it’s about a break-up and rival ice cream companies and a radio DJ in the middle of it all.

My mother introduced me to this movie years ago. It’s an odd one, with a quirky sense of humor and a dose of mid-life crisis, with Christmas carols in the background. It’s by the same director as Local Hero and has a similar quiet off-beat comedy going on. I honestly don’t quite know what to say about it aside that it’s become a staple for us at this time of year.

Morning DJ Alan “Dickie” Bird has a gorgeous kleptomaniac girlfriend, but only for the first few minutes of the movie because she up and leaves him after dinner one evening. She takes everything and exhorts him not to be cruel by doing something so ridiculous as asking why she’s leaving. Of course, as far as we can tell she hadn’t given any sign that she wanted to leave until that evening. He ends up helping her carry her stuff out of their flat. And then he has a bit of a quiet breakdown. His life suddenly empty but for work, right at the height of the holiday season, he goes in search of something, anything, to throw himself into.

What he finds is a rivalry between two ice cream companies: McCool’s and Mr. Bunny. He witnesses some thugs smash up a Mr. Bunny truck (and the jingle the Mr. Bunny trucks run is something we whistle all the time and no one ever recognizes it) and tries to find out what’s going on. Turns out it’s a family squabble, of course, and he does eventually manage to solve their problems but not before his car gets smashed up and he goes introspective enough at work to cause his boss to wonder if there’s a “sanity clause” in his contract.

There’s a bleakness to the movie. It takes place in a cloudy-skied Glasgow in the middle of December. There’s not a single sunny day in the movie. It’s either overcast or nighttime. I’m sure it was a conscious thing, to emphasize Dickie’s mood. It’s clear that Christmas is coming, because people talk about it, but none of the festivities have impacted him since his girlfriend left. And at the same time there’s a sly bit of humor in every scene. The rivalry between the ice cream companies is hilariously dramatic, full of characters who seem like they should be in a mafia movie. And then through the whole movie there’s the radio going. Dickie’s station is a mix of music and talk and ads. The ads are ridiculous and he enjoys a friendly rivalry with the other DJs. The news that plays several times through the movie has a progression of stories that could get lost in the background but never do for me. But there’s also a lot of good serious emotion here too, especially in the scenes with Dickie and his good friend Colin, a doctor who’s started a family and has everything Dickie thinks he wants.

It’s an impossible movie to clearly communicate. It is, much like Local Hero, sentimental and funny and quiet and just far enough off the beaten path to make me cock my head a little. I wish more people would see it. I wish I could share it with everyone. It’s not at all the norm for this time of year, but it always puts me in a Christmas mood.

December 19, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Comfort and Joy

December 19, 2010

Comfort and Joy

Long before I first saw this movie Amanda tried to describe it to me. It’s a strange and quirky film by Bill Forsyth with a convoluted plot that makes no sense. It takes place during Christmas, which is why it makes it into this week of viewing, but Christmas doesn’t feature prominently in the movie. More than anything else it takes place during Christmas because it is a movie, at first, about a man going through the worst of all possible break-ups and the fact that it takes place at Christmastime highlights how awful it is.

Our protagonist is an AM radio DJ named Alan. At the start of the movie his kleptomaniac girlfriend abruptly leaves him, taking virtually everything in the apartment with her. (As a side note I couldn’t help being reminded of the start of Play it Again Sam where Woody Allen’s character Allan abruptly find himself single. They both get almost exactly the same pick-me-up speech about how lucky they are to be single again.) In his loneliness and desperation Alan follows an ice-cream truck with an attractive girl in it and soon finds himself caught up in a turf war between rival ice-cream companies – the powerful and well established Italian Mr. McCool and the scrappy upstarts at Mr. Bunny (formerly Mr. Softie – no more.)

This is an odd sort of comedy. It’s full of strange circumstances and peculiar happenings. It has running gags about Alan’s much treasured BMW with velour upholstery. But it doesn’t actually deliver flat out laughs. It’s a sly, clever sort of comedy that derives its humor from strange juxtapositions like having a man struggle with depression during the Christmas season while his job is to be upbeat and effervescent on the radio. There’s a great scene of Alan recording a candy advertisement that shows the monotony of his job and how it contrasts with his radio personality. It winks at the audience as Alan gets deeper and deeper involved with the literal ice cream mafia in Glasgow. Alan begins to broadcast messages to Mr. Bunny during his live radio program and his co-workers begin to suspect that he has lost his mind.

As with our other favorite Bill Forsyth movie, Local Hero, the soundtrack here is provided by Mark Knopfler. For this movie Mark provides a melancholy sort of jazz sound that perfectly melds with the wet winter streets of Glasgow to make palpable Alan’s pain. It’s a sparse, simple soundtrack that perfectly complements Forsyth’s visuals and Bill Patterson’s soulful performance as Alan. Patterson presents Alan as a vulnerable, wounded man who genuinely just wants to make things better in the world.

If it were not for my wonderful wife I never would have discovered this peculiar gem of a movie. It’s the sort of film you don’t tend to hear a lot about but which is a delight to discover. Something simultaneously light-hearted and maudlin. Something about how we cope with loneliness that goes off in bizarre and unexpected directions. I love discovering good movies that nobody else has heard of, which is what this is. (It’s also worth noting that at least two Mystery Science Theater episodes make reference to this movie – so perhaps it is not as obscure as it feels.)

December 19, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment