From first time writer/director Bryan O’Neil we have Booked Out, a ridiculously charming and loveable little film about human connection, the lasting effect an event can have on someone and the general quirks of everyday life.
Nowhere are those quirks manifested more than in Ailidh (Mirren Burke), an artist who loves taking Polaroid photographs of her neighbours. One of the people she spies on his Jacob (Rollo Weeks), a young man who keeps visiting a mysterious and seemingly disturbed woman across the hall from her. Ailidh tries to get close to Jacob and all the while the two of them help an upstairs neighbour, Mrs Nicholls, to cope with the death of her husband.
Bolstered by a terrific, upbeat original score by Derek Yau and Mark West, Booked Out is quirky and off-beat but in an honest way. Its charm comes inherently from its characters and the witty script, moving effortlessly from delightful small-talk and small adventures – such as when Ailidh and Jacob go to a fancy dress party as “animals that doesn’t exist” – to actually being about something deeply real.
The latter aspect comes in two forms; Jacob dealing with a girl, Jacqueline, we don’t really know much about who doesn’t say much and appears both absent and clingy at the same time (achieved by an enigmatic performance from Claire Garvey), and the two leads helping out the lovable but troubled Mrs. Nicholls (played wonderfully by Sylvia Syms) who still believes her husband is alive. One scene in particular personifies the nature of the film as a whole in which Jacob has to speak French (the little of it he knows anyway) to an empty armchair which Mrs Nicholls believes her husband is sitting in. Ailidh keeps up this charade because she has a fondness for her upstairs neighbour, while Jacob seems to do it out of politeness more than anything else.
The two leads are great to watch together, Weeks’ awkwardness and shyness as Jacob off-set by the burst of energy and the ray of sunshine that is Burke’s Ailidh (Burke’s first feature performance here definitely makes her one to watch for the future).Their opposing natures which are somehow perfectly matched evokes Harold and Maude – whether that was international or not, that’s how it comes across.
The cinematography by Jordan Cushing gives the film a Summery feel for the most part, only changing to a dimmer, bleaker view whenever Jacob goes to visit Jacqueline or in some scenes with Mrs Nicholls. In this way we have a “mood stone” effect where the look and feel matches the tone of the scene at hand.
Although it takes a little while to find its feet, once it starts to mingle together its quirkiness with genuine heart, scratching away at the surface of what we assume is going on from the start, Booked Out really works. Sure to be one of the most charming indie movies of 2012, this is the type of intimate, funny and subtly involving film that gives the British film industry a good name.
The DVD doesn’t exactly contain an exhaustive amount of special features, however there’s enough there to add to the experience of the film. Along with the usual audio commentary (with the director and Director of Photography) and trailer, we also have a series of short interviews with the cast including Mirren Burke, Rollo Weeks, Claire Garvey and Sylvia Syms, though it would have been nice to have one with writer/director Bryan O’Neil himself as well. There’s also some deleted scenes (with optional commentary with O’Neil) adding up to around 18 minutes – one scene in particular entitled “Treacle seduces Bookwork-man” I actually felt could have stayed in the film.
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Booked Out is out on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on March 12th.