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EIFF 2019: Bittersweet Symphony (2019) dir: Jamie Adams

N.B. This film is not on general release in the UK at present. It was shown at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on Monday 24th and Wednesday 26th June 2019.

A successful musician with her own difficulties

This low-budget drama has nothing to do with Richard Ashcroft’s band The Verve. It features Suki Waterhouse as Iris, a talented singer-songwriter living in Wales with her family. She has landed the job of scoring a major Hollywood film and is working with an American talent named Eleanor (played by Jennifer Grey), who has flown over to collaborate with her in their family’s summer house.

However, she has her fair share of difficulties in her personal life. Her mother Mary (Claire Gage) is terminally ill. Her on-off boyfriend Bobby (Craig Roberts) struggles with both alcoholism and giving her sufficient space to enjoy time with her family.

Her blossoming relationship with Eleanor offers her a source of solace from her troubles.

Watch a trailer:

An unfocussed and unintentionally hilarious mess

Bittersweet Symphony is the equivalent of watching someone else’s home movie. It’s an interesting experience, to be sure, but more in a cringeworthy fashion than as a legitimately good film. It’s so amateurish and unfocussed in terms of cinematography, storytelling and tone.

It’s one of those films where it’s incredibly hard to tell what it’s aiming for and what it’s actually about. The beginning, featuring Iris’s drunken boyfriend bursting out of a huge Christmas box in front of her bemused family, seems to be played for laughs, as do the scenes featuring her slobbish, boorish brother (well, presumably her brother - but the script doesn’t make it clear), played by Richard Elis. There are also emotion-drenched scenes where they attempt to come to terms with their mother’s terminal illness. There’s also an implied budding May-December lesbian romance between Iris and Eleanor, along with the resultant jealousy that this inevitably induces in the clingy Bobby. As if this wasn’t enough, the film also tries to function as a musical showcase for Suki Waterhouse. It’s all very blurry and self-indulgent.

Never mind: you can also take solace in a number of unintentional chuckles here. For one thing, the continuity is noticeably ropy at times. In one shot, Suki’s character is wearing a cardigan but it’s off in the next one and back on in the one after that. There’s a speeded-up sex scene between Iris and Bobby (and yet another of those unrealistic “she wears her bra during the act” ones which pop up far too often in films nowadays) which it’s impossible to maintain a straight face while watching. It’s also completely unbelievable that the beautiful, confident and creative Iris would ever give the time of day to the sad and insecure Bobby in the first place.

Suki Waterhouse in Bittersweet Symphony

The only redeeming feature of Bittersweet Symphony is that some of the cast members themselves are evidently talented. This is especially true of Jennifer Grey (whose career highpoint was 1987’s Dirty Dancing), here perfectly cast in the role of an ageing, alcoholic icon. Suki Waterhouse is personable enough and can sing and strum surprisingly well. Griffin Dunne (from An American Werewolf in London and After Hours) also pops up as another family member who talks to Suki’s character over Skype. However, as per usual with the film’s messy script, it’s never made 100% clear what his exact relationship to the other characters is.

To be fair, Bittersweet Symphony isn’t quite within that rare circle of cinematic dreck inhabited by the likes of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. Nonetheless, it still adds up to a valuable object lesson in how NOT to make a film.

Runtime: 80 mins

Dir: Jamie Adams

Script: Jamie Adams

Starring: Suki Waterhouse, Jennifer Grey, Poppy Delevingne, Craig Roberts, Griffin Dunne, Craig Russell, Claire Gage, Keiron Self, Richard Elis

Rating: ☆1/2

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