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‘The Score’ (review)

The Score is a British romantic musical neo-noir, with strong influence from the absurdist theatrical movement of the 20th century.

The feature film debut of writer-director Malachi Smythe, the film is a fascinating cinematic experiment in genre and tone with strong central performances. While the second act drags, and all the discrete elements do not always congeal, this is a film worth your time if you’re looking for something different.

The film opens with the principal cast members singing along with the title tune, and right away we get a sense of the difficulty we’ll have with this project: romances and musicals demand big, bold, emotions that underpin the numbers.

The tension of a scene increases until characters must break into song in order to express themselves. However, as we’ll soon see we’re also firmly in the tradition of absurdist theater where we’re in the realm of irony, wordplay, and detachment.

The union of the two produces numbers that at times feel more like the characters have collectively decided to lip sync to a song they like rather than sing a number.

The tone is set wonderfully after this as Will Poulter’s Troy and Johnny Flynn’s Mike have a clever back and forth about the myriad meanings of the word “score.”

A little on the nose sure, but this opening repartee strongly recalls Rosencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead and Waiting For Godot and sets our expectations for what’s to come. Two petty gangsters are on their way to a job and the world they inhabit is one without a lot of room for genuine emotion or vulnerability. The thieves stop off at a roadside cafe for a pre planned rendezvous and Poulter meets, and falls for the proprietor, Gloria, played by Naomi Ackie who Troy falls for.

The mutual infatuation triggers the third genre mix up– a musical, neo-noir, romantic comedy.

The Score is a film with strong theatrical influences and once it moves to the roadside cafe it nearly becomes a filmed play for most of its run time with all action centered in a single location.

As a genre mix up it is clever, well shot, and very well performed. Some of the numbers are genuinely wonderful, and this film alone almost works as an advertisement for Naomi Ackie’s upcoming turn in the Whitney Houston biopic. Flynn, an artist with whom I am not familiar, is responsible for the music and it varies wildly. Not in quality, it’s all pretty easy on the ears, but in suitability for a musical. Some of this feels very natural for a musical, and some of this feels like karaoke. This problem is somewhat compounded by the heavy absurdist influence: absurdism rejects and undercuts traditional “development” in stories and the verbose style coupled with the static location conspire to create a second act that feels like it’s spinning its wheels.

Don’t read this as a damning criticism though: much of the dialogue is extremely sharp, and Poulter and Ackie do an amazing job conveying love at a moment when it could not possibly be less convenient. We return to the thesis of the film: the score here is a job, a lover, a result, a collection of music. The Score may not be a master of any of its given trades but if you’re tired of the typical cinematic experience and looking to be challenged, you’ll find a lot to enjoy here.

A wonderful stew, even if all the flavors never quite blend.

3 out of 5 stars.

*  *  *  *  *
Produced by Matthew James Wilkinson, Ben Pullen
Written and Directed by Malachi Smyth
Starring Johnny Flynn, Will Poulter, Naomi Ackie, Lydia Wilson

 

 

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