Tuesday, 6 November 2012

FAQ About Time Travel - The Land of Make Believe

Before writing a treatment for The Automated Heart I'd never heard of Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel which I thought was weird as it was made in 2009 by BBC Film and HBO of all people. Then, like all good coincidences, BBC2 showed it this weekend. I was a little suspicious as I really did have no knowledge of the film's existence (maybe I had gone back in time and erased any memory of it) however it was the kind of film I thought I would like so I watched it and did. The critics were really divided by it and it only had a small release - hence why I had no knowledge of it - so I thought I'd try and be a little more balanced with my review.

The plot in a sentence: three British guys (two nerds aka 'Imagineers' and one guy trying desperately to not get sucked into the Imagineer void) go to the pub to set the world to rights only to discover a leak in the time space continuity in the men's toilets.

I'd say right here and now if any aspect of that plot (British comedy, three guys in a pub, nerds, sci-fi) doesn't interested you then don't bother - you won't enjoy the film and you won't get it - but if you are a little more open-minded then I definitely recommend giving it a go.

FAQ About Time Travel is in the same vein as Shaun of the Dead but I think it would be unfair to compare the films too closely. FAQATT is made on a much smaller budget, which for a high concept film can be very limiting - 95% of the film is set inside a pub - but I think that makes the film endearing and shows how much can actually be achieved on such a small budget and with a lot of imagination (so many times I get told it is impossible to make a high concept film on a small budget but this is proof to the otherwise).

The comedy is very British. The first ten minutes are just the three leads talking, trying to prove the film is going to be funny, which feels a little forced (and very BBC sitcom) but once the story kicks in and the comedy comes from the plot and character interaction everything settles down and becomes more natural. The comedy is really helped by its delivery from the three leads, in particular Ray (Chris O'Dowd).

With three male leads, a pub setting and a emphasis on geek culture FAQATT is definitely a lads' film. This is no clearer than with the female characters - in particular Cassie (Anna Faris). She really is character lite and little more than a plot device, only popping up to divulge the next plot twist and to get Ray all loved up. Maybe she jars so much being very American in a very British environment. Maybe she jars because the writer is more comfortable writing males. It's hard to tell when she gets such little screen time. I'm glad she's there but I wish she had more to her.

The film's only big, proper weakness is the ending. The film in general is so high on ideas and good intentions that it deserves a super whizz-bang ending but instead it sort of fizzles out. I don't want to give the ending away but blink and you'll miss it. It's a real shame as up to that point FAQATT had managed to produce some actually quite genius moments. Toby (Marc Wootton) singing his heart out to Total Eclipse of the Heart in the men's toilet only to walk out to discover his dead future self is both hilarious and unexpected. My favourite scene of the whole film is when Ray and Pete (Dean Lennox Kelly) walk into a pub beer garden full of people dressed as them, dancing to the film's leitmotif The Land of Make Believe by Bucks Fizz. Surreal!

Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel may not be the most polished film in the world but it is charming and fun. It is a quirky little British genre comedy and as a British genre writer I really hope you give it a watch. If we don't support British films that dare to be different then producers will stop funding them...which would be a great loss to British cinema that no amount of time travelling would be able to undo.

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