An Awfully Big Adventure is the film where I thought: That's the Hugh Grant I like.
Sure, he can be charming as the bumbling insecure Brit perpetually nervous around women (check Four Weddings and a Funeral--a film I could barely stand and Notting Hill) but in Adventure (directed by Mike Newell's Four Weddings)--he's a prissy, sour, a-hole. And though his character never develops beyond his unpleasantness, Hugh does well with the jerks. I always wanted him to stick to these types. Sadly, I had to wait for the Bridget Jones movies where he stole both shows.
But enough about Hugh, An Awfully Big Adventure is a strange little movie that never gets its footing despite an intriguing plot and a surprisingly dark, shocking twist. Even with the sublime Alan Rickman--an actor I can't think of disappointing me in any film--starring, the film never gels.
Taking place in a very somber Liverpool in the late 1940's the story centers on the starstruck, innocent 16-year old Stella (a weird Georgina Cates). Filled with acting aspirations and overly excited, she joins a down on their luck, low-budget theater troupe run by Meredith Potter (Grant) as assistant stage manager. The actors are a curious lot--the "best" Potter can find, yet ones who engage in more drama off stage than on. With these examples in front of her, Stella starts dipping into behavior more scandalous than she's accustomed to. She begins sleeping with a man she's not terribly interested in (at least not in love with anyway) while holding a flame for the highly unlikable and fey Potter.
Stella's life takes another turn when the lead in the company's production of "Peter Pan" breaks his leg. Potter is granted the talents of a more legendary actor, the ex-matinee idol P. L. O'Hara (Rickman) in the role of Captain Hook. Soon Stella is seduced by this dashing character. What then occurs I can't reveal but the film takes a decidedly darker turn than Newell's Enchanted April of past--a turn that's truly, an eye-opener. But it's too bad the resulting film is something of a mess. Filled with so much fascinating, morbidly humorous and heartbreaking drama, it's a shame the picture didn't rise to the level is desired. Newell is an interesting director (with Pushing Tin and Donnie Brasco later on his resume) and I like that he pushed the envelope. And yet, even as he challenges the typical, by-the-book, English period piece he loses perspective and, worst, sympathy along the way.
Still, for performances and really, uniqueness alone, An Awfully Big Adventure is a picture that, flaws and all, will stick with you an awfully long time. Much more than you'd expect.
New Line presents An Awfully Big Adventure in anamorphic (1.85:1). It's a relatively decent transfer--warm toned and dark looking where it should be but sometimes muddy looking.
Audio comes in English Dolby Digital 5.1. It sounds fine, though not pristine.
Just a theatrical trailer for the film.
Final Thoughts:An awfully strange, eventually depressing film at the time for director Newell, you will nevertheless be intrigued by the performances and of course, shocking ending.
Read more Kim Morgan at her blog Sunset Gun