Joyful Noise **

The promise of a musical number with Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah in it may cause some to stuff cheese in their ears and run for the proverbial hills for cover. Others may welcome the idea as a chance for some vocal chemistry and sparkle on screen. Add in the gospel-singing aspect, and there should be a lot to rejoice about with writer-director Todd Graff’s Joyful Noise. True, a good-natured Parton smile can lighten up the dullest of moments, but after that magic is all used up, Graff’s new film has very little cinematic substance, apart from a good toe-tapping tune or two, and feels like a monumental rip-off of Sister Act proportions.

Set in austerity-hit, small-town Georgia, after the sudden death of choir master Bernard Sparrow (Kris Kristofferson), his glamorous and cantankerous wife G.G (Parton) and her choir nemesis, the fiercely independent Vi Rose Hill (Latifah) find they are loggerheads over who will take over. Old-fashioned Pastor Dale (Courtney B. Vance) awards the job to Vi Rose who only wants to do the old numbers in a choral national competition they always lose in – much to G.G’s dismay. But the group’s direction gradually takes a new turn with the arrival of G.G’s grandson from New York, Randy (Jeremy Jordan), who falls for over-protective Vi Rose’s teenage daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer) and befriends her Aspergers Syndrome-suffering son, Walter (Dexter Darden). As times change for all, the members reassess what is important while keeping their eyes on the ultimate prize.

Parton fans should be warned that their diminutive, blonde-coiffured heroine takes more of a backseat in this: This is a Latifah-led film with all the film’s problems (in the literal sense) relating to her and her actions. That’s not so say there aren’t moments of joyful noisy bliss to enjoy, such as the diner bust-up between the pair’s characters that allows Dolly to deliver a few self-mocking winks in her own direction. The trouble is the rest of the time – when it isn’t trying to coax you into the concocted cosy fakery of the nearest Evangelical church – is witnessing Latifah crashing around like an angry mother bee, stomping on any fun or character development and trying to have the last smug line.

The majority of the staged scenarios feel totally unreal, such as when Randy defies all odds to reach out to Walter in record time and ‘cure’ his aliment and social fears: Yes, the healing power of music is strong, but the duration in which it happens in is totally incredible – almost ludicrous. There is also the slapstick side joke of the choir member who is highly lucky in love, committing the cardinal sin of sex before marriage that wears thin before the end punch line is delivered (and we’ve long lost interest).

The rest of the film is as predictable as it comes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you easily fall into the musical medleys that combine a number of music genres – and some original tracks for Dolly fans, plus every character forgets their woes (and their bad acting) when the music starts. But the fact that the plot is recycled pulp with a group finding unity and happiness after an injection of outside help then goes on to be triumphant (sound familiar?) makes the whole premise feel tired, in addition to the processed gospel-Glee scenarios for young love to flourish etc. There is also the grating factor that yet again only the youth have any fresh ideas worth listening to, which of a film targeting all generations is a bit rich.

Joyful Noise is disarmingly heart-warming in its musical prowess and lazy in its storytelling development, hoping that the former – plus the big names – will attract a large enough crowd to keep it buoyant at the box office. This may well be the case. However well intentioned in its proposed aim to focus people’s attention away from personal austerity woes for the duration of its run-time, it simultaneously berates us for losing our faith in the church – like a subtle message from Christian Middle America. Again, this may not be criticism as such when it does it in such an outright corny fashion. But a good sing-a-long never hurt anyone either, and this is its only driving force.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Killer Joe ****

Teaming up with writer Tracy Letts of Bug again, The Exorcist and The French Connection director William Friedkin decides to go down the depressingly claustrophobic route of his 2006 film, trapping us with his characters in a seemingly hopeless spiral of existence in Killer Joe. However, there is some depraved glee that this filmmaker takes in toying with his hapless cast, and his latest film is no exception nor for the faint-hearted.

When Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) finds himself in debt again, he decides to put a hit out on his evil mother for cashing in on her life insurance, with the help of Texan detective and assassin-for-hire ‘Killer’ Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey). The trouble is his family don’t have the doe to pay the sinister Joe upfront who asks for retainer in Chris’s young and emotionally challenged sister Dottie (Juno Temple). With so many secrets threatening to unravel the plan, will anyone come out the winner?

Friedkin holds no punches in exploring the depravity of the human psyche when the chips are down and money is involved. Each of his characters is ‘ugly’ in their own unique way in their quest for individual rewards and survival in the story. The director has no qualms about suggesting this, even in Dottie’s more vulnerable case: are they a product of their environment (white trailer trash, effectively) or do they instigate their own chilling misfortune? He puts them under the microscope and lets them squirm with noirish comic value for our benefit/pleasure. However, some may find the experiences of Dottie in the story hard to process, considering she’s underage. There is also a deliberate, misogynistic undercurrent flowing freely too, like some trace of a 70s torture-porn movie.

However questionable the antics of the characters are – and one quite powerful and disturbing act will leave you thinking twice about purchasing your next bucket of fried chicken legs, undoubtedly the winner in this piece is McConaughey who will shake off his all-American romcom image for good after seeing him as Joe in this. He’s like a seductive Lucifer come to judge the sinful, giving one of his most memorable performances to date. In fact, he’s been missing a trick for years, it seems, suggesting the unhinged character brings out the best of his acting abilities. McConaughey even plays on his Texan smoothie charm that fans admire, but will leave them doubting as he delves into his darker side for drawing out all of Joe’s condescending and judgemental angles.

Friedkin also brilliantly sets the Gothic mood and tone in his new film, revisiting his Exorcist traits for full horror value, and making the trailer the dysfunctional family’s own private hell. It’s only when each character comes into the light in his daytime scenes that he then readdresses the dark comedy value of the whole sick situation, but never straying far from the imminent danger and brutality that follows each character around. In this sense, it’s quite an arresting piece of intense filmmaking as the laughs merely act as much-needed releases.

Killer Joe will leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth of some, but it’s arguably a controversial, if disjointed and engaging return to form for Friedkin after six-year absence on the big screen. There is also an alarming confidence portrayed in the delicate subject matter it explores, which is yet undecidedly genius or worryingly affecting. Even so, as Friedkin recently remarked that he knows of such real-life cop characters-cum-contract killers, to fight evil you need to know what it is yourself. In this sense, it’s the challenge in accepting this that will determine how effective Killer Joe is as a character and a film.

4/5 stars

By @ FilmGazer

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Your Sister’s Sister ***

Emily Blunt is having a field day at present, career-wise, dabbling in an assortment of film styles and character relationships. But perhaps her best work is when she is being completely natural and subtly funny, as in Humpday writer-director Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister as Iris. The film’s strength is in its realistic improvisation, like a window on three, average lives in a cocoon for a brief moment that will be easily forgotten tomorrow.

Jack (Mark Duplass) is finding it hard to get over the anniversary of the death of his popular brother, until his sibling’s ex, Iris (Blunt), suggests going away to her family’s forest retreat to recuperate. Unbeknown to either party, Iris’s lesbian sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), has been staying in the cabin beforehand to get over her failed, long-term relationship. After inviting Jack to stay overnight and drowning their sorrows over a bottle of tequila, the pair ends up in bed. The trouble is not only is this complicated, but Iris also arrives to find out how Jack is doing and to confess her true feelings for him.

Shelton’s filmmaking strength is allowing her characters to dictate the pace and escalate the situation in their own time. There are some seriously frank comments that sound totally unscripted from the start, as though all three are in some kind of reality TV show, unaware of and not bother when they are the focus of frame.

The casting is very complimentary – hence the on-screen triangle works so well, with Duplass as Jack like a less self-absorbed Jason Segel in stature (Blunt’s latest co-star in The Five-Year Engagement). He plays the part of the mumbling, self-depreciating oaf of social suicidal proportions who does and says the wrong thing but with admiral conviction. But his likeability factor is actually sealed from the start, whatever transpires, as it is established that he has a fan in Iris who is the social barometer. Blunt as Iris is also the social glue in the equation, wearing her heart on her sleeve with fetching, quirky honesty and delivering some wonderful lines, but is bound to come unstuck.

That said DeWitt as Hannah, the dark horse is the film’s intriguing player who stirs the situation and makes for the most exciting of the characters in their enclosed space. Hers is a different kind of confidence to her sister’s, and DeWitt explores her dangerous antics to the full, but with all the controlled emotion of a person with an agenda. Her performance does not detract from the other characters though, keeping the focus firmly and evenly on all three.

Where the film comes unstuck is sometimes the situations are not so important as to warrant dragging out the wordy scenarios the three find themselves in. Also, the ending is a bit of a let down and contrived to the ridiculous. This is not the first time Shelton appears to run out of subtle ideas on how to end her project, what with Humpday fizzling out in the finale too. It’s a shame, as Shelton’s rounded characters do seem to win you over at the start, as well as make you want to invest in them. Perhaps it’s the incessant banal dialogue surrounding the snippets of interest and little else happening that makes it feel like a chore to sit through at times – like eavesdropping on mundane gossip has its limits for some. Still, to take the namesake of her 2008 film, there is a ‘effortless brilliance’ in what she accomplishes from all her characters that should be applauded.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Fairy ****

The dynamic trio of filmmakers, Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon and Bruno Romy who gave us the delightfully enrapturing Rumba in 2008 have brought their dance/mime format back for another outing, The Fairy (La fée). Theirs is an old-fashioned, visual performance art that translates brilliantly on screen and is simply delightful to watch and totally unique in today’s action-stuffed, 3D cinematic arena.

In The Fairy, Abel plays hotel clerk Dom who leads a solitary life running a hotel at night. One evening he is interrupted eating his dinner and watching a film by a series of guests. The first is John, l’Anglais (Romy) who in pigeon French, asks for a room to stay in but has an unwanted four-legged friend in tow. The second is Fiona (Gordon) who claims to be a fairy and grants Dom three wishes. Dom falls for the enigmatic Fiona after two of his three wishes come true. But after a midnight swim, Fiona disappears and Dom searches all over Le Havre for the fairy.

The style of this film will not be to everyone’s taste but it’s such a compelling use of mime, dance and expression, in the place of a lot of speech that it’s like watching seasoned clowns at a circus perform to tell an old-fashioned fairy tale. There is a touch of the farcical about it all, a sort of balmy Gauloise eccentricity that is so deliciously endearing and sweet.

As in Rumba, you instantly fall for the characters’ distinct individuality and the awe-inspiring choreography that goes into the simplest-looking of routines. It’s clear that the trio favours the skills of the silent film era, and after The Artist, audiences are more pre-disposed to exploring this. In addition to the cinema vérité framing, there is a wonderful use of long shots to put the ridiculousness of the whole situation in context – one in particular involves the exterior of the hotel and flapping, ruffled curtains as Dom struggles to catch his breath. These wide frames serve to concentrate our attention fully and force us to use some imagination too.

The Fairy’s good-natured kookiness is solely down to the engaging facial gurns from Abel and Gordon who with one look deliver the film’s emotional context in that one moment. The pair is so agile that watching them contort themselves into various gravity-defying shapes is equally astounding to behold. Whereas everything around them seems utterly illogical, these moments where they come together in dance serve as the film’s anchor points of poise and control, so that the whole affair does not spiral into lunacy.

Abel, Gordon and Romy are a breath of fresh air today, a love letter to cinema of a by-gone era. This is both their box office draw for those in the know and their curse as their films need to be seen to be fully appreciated, plus explaining their context always feels like undervaluing the work that has gone into them. For pure entertainment and high-spirited comedy value, The Fairy is as good as any gone before as a quirky introduction – once you have seen one of their films, you’ll never forget it that’s for sure.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Lay The Favourite *

If the experiences of sex industry worker, amateur boxer and sports-betting expert Beth Raymer really did happen as they do in her memoir, boy has she lived a full life already by the age of 36. Perhaps reading her book will shed some light too, on Stephen Frears’ screen adaptation of the same name, Lay the Favourite, that feels like a barrage of disjointed, far-fetched scenarios smothered in rapid-fire, betting-heavy jargon, leaving everyone a loser.

Rebecca Hall plays ex-stripper Beth who goes to Las Vegas to do something meaningful, and ends up becoming a sports-betting expert overnight when gambling guru Dink Heimowitz (Bruce Willis) goes with a hunch and gives her a job working the sportsbook system to their advantage. After falling for the older guy, Dink – and making an enemy of his high-maintenance and jealous wife, Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones), spurned Beth then falls for visiting journalist (Joshua Jackson). However, she makes the mistake of leaving Vegas to work for Dink’s shady New York counterpart Rosie (Vince Vaughn), and soon lands in trouble in the illegal gambling stakes. Beth turns to Dinks to bail her out.

Impressive cast aside that’s the film’s obvious hook from the lively poster, Frears’ tale of betting and corruption in Vegas is a bizzarely perplexing and incoherent flat mix of Show Girls and Two for the Money (which played the high-stakes gambling card far better). It never satisfactorily explains why its ditzy lead (Hall) is such a betting hotshot on first sight, or why the surrounding mish-mash of characters fall so easily for her charms? Indeed, first incredulous thing first; even though every father should encourage their daughter’s choices in life, Beth’s (Corbin Bernsen) at the start seems unnaturally, overly thrilled at his daughter’s dream of becoming a Vegas cocktail waitress – as though she’s just announced she’s running for office in Nevada.

Even though the pace of the film has the Frears’ nibble filmmaking hallmark – perhaps to his detriment with this tale, the resulting insider language of bookkeeping and odds-making will wash over the majority of us to become a monotonous, numerical babble, with a couple of whoops of joy and groans of despair (from the characters). There is very little excitement for us to be party to, as there is no pause for breath or real lighter moments for us to engage in, except when displeased Tulip sashays into view, ready to pounce.

In fact Brit gals Zeta-Jones and Hall prop up this tedious tale while Willis mumbles in the corner and occasionally throws a strop to liven things up and Vaughn plays ‘Vaughn’ (again), the same East Coast, machine-gun-mouthed, wisecracking guy with absolutely no variation on smart-mouthed delivery. The only vaguely interesting factor is watching Hall as Beth in an against-type role for a change. But even this wanes and then grates along with her insipid, over-enthusiastic screen personality.

With so many TV sports screens, flashing stats, fast-talking and vacuous characters that register very little purpose on this planet to warrant the big sting at the end, Lay the Favourite (betting jargon that means sitting in front of computer screens, placing bets, playing the odds and living it up, apparently), is a surprising turn off of talent not worth betting on for a profitable night out’s big-screen entertainment.

1/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Five-Year Engagement **

Where do you go after showing all your naked glory in Forgetting Sarah Marshall? For Jason Segel, fresh from The Muppets, you head back to familiar Apatow territory to play the big, misunderstood softie in need of some good lovin’. Although The Five-Year Engagement isn’t as clichéd as some rom-coms, it still suffers from some contrived moments as Segel and co-star Emily Blunt experience the pitfalls of postponing their characters’ marriage vows, much to our hilarity.

After meeting at a costume party, dressed as a fluffy pink bunny and Princess Di respectively, Tom (Segel) and Violet (Blunt) progress down the road that leads to a memorable engagement in the San Francisco restaurant where chef Tom works. They then do what any couple does and start planning their big day. However, Violet, a trainee psychologist, gets offered a position on the other side of the United States at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. As this is only meant to last a couple of years, the couple postpone the wedding, and a few years grow into more years. As time passes, and Violet relishes her new position, Tom gets more and more frustrated with Ann Arbor life. It threatens their relationship and their plans for the future.

This has Apatow stamped all over it, with grown men still struggling to come to terms with growing up and ‘forced’ to take on adult responsibilities, and the female characters who have to pick up the ball and run with the consequences. While this is also the charm of the producer’s films for avid fans, this film feels yet like another exploration of all that is ‘not fair’ with adult life at a far slower pace, allowing the average male viewer a chance to empathise but not offering much else in terms of originality.

Although it, thankfully, doesn’t rely on lots of set-pieces and mishaps along the way – it doesn’t altogether avoid them either, the time spent does almost feel like real-time (years and years) that by the time a happy resolution is found, you are past caring – even if it makes you chuckle anyway, perhaps with relief?

The initial jarring point is the pairing of Segel with Blunt that feels slightly unbelievable, to be honest. It’s questionable whether there was ever chemistry enough in the characters’ relationship to last the test of time, as their initial meeting seems unconvincingly, even if it’s kind of cutesy. There is a distinct lack of energy in parts: There are snooze-fest moments, which neither excite nor propel the narrative forward as you feel almost like a gooseberry watching as the couple next door muddle over the day’s events. Indeed, the opposites attract theory is tested to the full when Tom goes off-piste in deepest, forested Ann Arbor, setting up for a pointless and unfunny crossbow joke, not to mention portraying the area like a red neck haven of lunacy.

What the writers (including Segel) are also guilty of is devoting more time to some supporting characters – and rather annoying ones, like the token best buddy, Alex (Chris Pratt), who isn’t funny, wise or a significant enough, even though this character is a must in the Apatow plot – to the detriment of others. Winton Childs (well-played by Rhys Ifans), Violet’s amorous boss obviously has a shadier side that could have been tapped into more for twisted comedy value.

One funny scene actually involves Muppets impersonations between Violet and her sister, Suzie (Alison Brie), speaking entirely in ‘Sesame Street’ voices as not to scare the kiddies by the content. But even this drags a little and like other scenes, feels totally constructed, rather than more ‘naturally flowing’ like the rest of the film is aiming for. Indeed, although it feels less like a comedy of slapstick episodes, it does revert to some to inject some fizz.

As endearing as Segel and Blunt are, The Five-Year Engagement feels like just that; five years of your life spent waiting for the inevitable, with not as many laughs along the way to support the ups and downs of the relationship. Like the characters, we wish the actors well with this release, but we don’t think it will last the distance at the box office.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Red Lights ***

Headline-grabbing cast of Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro, Cillian Murphy and rising ‘horror/thriller star’ Elizabeth Olsen, Buried director Rodrigo Cortés’s new film, Red Lights, promises another intriguing delve into the supernatural unexplained. It pitches the sceptics and the believers against each other as it twists and turns and convolutes its story of exploration.

Psychologists Margaret Matheson (Weaver) and her assistant Tom Buckley (Murphy) study paranormal activity and try to blow the lid on the psychics’ methods once and for all. After successfully questioning the acts of some, they are faced with the world-renowned psychic Simon Silver (De Niro) who not only has a large following and respect, but has amassed a fortune, and who has resurfaced years after his toughest critic mysteriously passed away.

What starts out a fascinating and ambiguous premise of supernatural study on film, expertly acted by the stellar cast, falls victim to its own paranoid disbelief at the end, as Cortés feels the need to reiterate pointers in glaring flashbacks in his finale, rather than leave a cerebral air of mystery. Indeed, he does well to challenge all our perceptions within his narrative but is also guilty of tripping himself up in his quest to unravel the world of the psychic – or ‘red lights’ (facts that prove a psychic is a fraud).

What Cortés does deliver is a powerful sense of doubt along the way on both sides of the argument – as well as some confusion as the theories become overly complex, while leaving other answers unexplored and hanging in the ether. One example in particular, is when Buckley visits Silver’s sinister quarters, and the blind psychic gives a chilling monologue. Rather than filling you with further intrigue, it merely feels wordy and wasted in its power from the ever-dynamic De Niro.

Thankfully for the writer-director, like the coin trick that Murphy as Buckley does on Olsen’s student character, Sally Owen, we are always momentarily blind-sided by the engaging performances, stopping us giving up all together on the film’s ideas. It’s a shame as Red Lights has so much more potential to give than it delivers, and you wonder whether a more experienced screenwriter who have moulded it all far better, letting Cortés concentrate on its direction.

Cortés is a highly talented and exciting filmmaker, using all the tricks of his trade to conjure up tension, mystery and intrigue. However, the doubt is in his writing skills in pulling off compounded plotlines, and if it wasn’t for the acting talent that his latest film has attracted, Red Lights would have fallen at the first hurdle – however curious we may be at its subject matter.

3/5 stars

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Rock of Ages ****

Sometimes being entertained happens in the most unexpected way. On first thought, a musical in itself is enough to make the toes curl, but one sold on dodgy rock anthems of yesteryear, overly camp costumes and cringe mullets will divide opinion further. However, go into Rock of Ages without any high expectations or an ounce of experience of the stage musical, and Hairspray’s Adam Shankman certainly knows how to put on one of the silliest, futile but crowd-pleasing shows in the town.

Small town girl Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and city boy Drew (Diego Boneta, he of 90210) meet on the Sunset Strip while pursuing their Hollywood dream of making it big in the rock business. But fame does not come easy at first and their fate has a destiny with flamboyant superstar rocker Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) and unscrupulous agents. Their rock ‘n’ roll romance pounds to the hits of Def Leppard, Joan Jett, Journey, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Night Ranger, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Poison, Whitesnake and more.

The aim of this puffed up rocking panto is not to take it too seriously, and just enjoy the ensemble cast having a ball at being utterly outrageous. For those of you who spotted the younger, fresher ‘Jen Aniston’ dead ringer Hough in the remake of Footloose – notice a musical pattern here for former ballroom dancer Hough – can again sigh over her heavenly charms and sweet, naïve nature in this as she grapples with the evils of the big city like a lost, latter-day fairy-tale belle. It’s hard not to like all-American gal Sherrie who alongside Drew need as much encouragement as possible on the rocky road of love and navigating the cringeable, tongue-in-cheek script.

The film has its cry-out-loud funny episodes, such as the duet between Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin), the near-bankrupted owner of the hippest rock club in town, The Bourbon Room, and his ‘British’ sidekick Lonny (Russell Brand). To get to this particular gem of daftness, you have to endure an annoyingly insipid Brand in a far less interesting rocker role than his Get Him To The Greek one. In fact, the funniest thing about Lonny is not meant to be: his ever-changing accent from Liverpudlian to Brummie to Cockney, like some multiple personality disorder sufferer.

Baldwin and Paul Giamatti who plays devious agent Paul Gill offer the film’s variations of sleaze but are like immensely entertaining, sad old middle-aged men, while a ‘pinched looking’ Catherine Zeta-Jones gets into her old Chicago glad rags and high-kicking routine again will full gusto to play a prim politician’s wife with a hidden secret.

Star of the whole show is Cruise who adopts another screen-grabbing caricature, like the one in Tropic Thunder. Cruise knows how to pull off ‘weirdo’ in spades, dressed much like a spaced out version of 80s Guns n’ Roses legend Axl Rose with the sulky attitude of guitarist Slash. As conceited as Stacee Jaxx is, Cruise does try to go for the ‘little boy lost’ to the perils of fame effect so we naturally end up rooting for the rock monster. And boy, what antics: there is quite a raunchy number between him and Malin Akerman as music journo Constance Sack at one point that might make some parents accompanying minors blush in their presence.

Nevertheless, Rock of Ages is undeniably outrageous good fun with another standout comedic act from Cruise. If nothing else, those who remember the 80s the first time around will be head banging and toe tapping to the memorable beats while reminiscing about fashion’s biggest period of faux pas items. That’s the glee of the whole big, dopey, hairy, sweaty and loud fiasco.

4/5 stars

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Fast Girls ***

It’s the classic ‘underdog done good’ feel to debut director Regan Hall’s commendable Brit flick Fast Girls, appropriately timed to target and drum up interested in London 2012 among the youth – perhaps a difficult group to reach and market the games to. At the same time as being fairly obvious, plot-wise, from the very start as to the outcome, it’s still an inspirational, feel-good film with some fun parts as we experience a real drive for success this summer.

Sprinter Shania Andrews (Being Human’s Lenora Crichlow in her first lead feature role) is fast and good enough to compete professionally on Team GB. Trouble is, she’s from the wrong side of the tracks with little family life to back her up and her dreams. After competing in a national trial, she finds she’s placed on the British relay squad, but has to face bitchiness from daddy’s little rich girl Lisa Temple (Lily James). But Shania’s biggest problem is closer to home and threatens to jeopardise her budding career in the fast lane.

As with many homegrown films of late, Fast Girls is no exception in reminding us again of the disenfranchised living in the shadow of the Olympic site – and rolling out the class differences of the haves and have nots. However, without dwelling on these differences that naturally surface, Hall focuses on Shania as a beacon of hope and perseverance. Crichlow gives her usual believable, assertive performance with a flavour of bad girl to it, making Shania a fully flawed but grounded character worth rooting for.

Indeed, no London-based, street-wise story depicting gritty hardship and determination would be complete without an appearance from Noel Clarke, only this time he’s a little older and wiser acting as embattled trainer Tommy. To be fair, the actor takes a bit of a backseat in this to let the girls shine. It’s the sisterhood that has some solid substance to it and with its sporty topic, and will unite the genders. Newcomer Lashana Lynch as opinionated, overly confident athlete Belle Newman stands out as one to watch among some rather wooden acting by others.

Fast Girls is an energising offering depicting 2012’s challenges and achievements while demonstrating that TV’s Crichlow is a strong feature film lead worth investing in. The film’s patriotic, lump-in-throat-inducing finale overcomes any thoughts of treading familiar Brit flick ground and obvious clichés.

3/5 stars

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