Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
This terrific English comedy is a sleeper's sleeper, a smart and sexy take on slackers in Scotland
that puts most American efforts to shame. Clever writing and smooth direction bring out a quartet of
charming performances without resorting to gimmicks or cheap thrills. We develop an intense liking
for the youthful characters from the first scene forward.
Four young night shift workers hang out in coffee shops to share
their lives, even though they consider themselves more acquaintances than friends. Vincent (James
Lance) is a skirt chaser who believes that his wristwatch is charmed because it was once worn
by Errol Flynn. Lenny (Enzo Cilenti) used to write for a porno magazine but is too shy to declare
himself to workmate Gail (Shauna Macdonald). Desperately in need of companionship, Jody (Kate Ashfield)
continues with the group even after she loses her job. And Sean (Luke de Woolfson) hasn't seen his
day-working girlfriend Madeline (Heike Makatsch) in weeks. He's been avoiding her even while
desperately worried that she may have left him. Eventually the petty romantic problems of the late
night foursome become a communal project.
As defined by Richard Linklater's film,
American slackers a tend to
be employment evaders that have found convenient ways to sponge or chisel out a marginal living. All of
these Scottish twenty-somethings have jobs, but they're so bored out of their
skulls they might as well be unemployed. Sean is a porter in a hospital, Vincent restocks store
shelves, Jody works on a microelectronics assembly line and Lenny is a telephone information
operator. Those working supervised jobs watch the clock and those left on their own find
'creative' ways to fill the time.
The group congregates after hours in a self-serve coffee shop, forming friendships out of
mutual alienation and wounded self-esteem. Their chat naturally gravitates toward the confused
state of their sex lives. Lenny is convinced that his previous job writing smut for a men's magazine
has warped his ability to deal with women. Vincent cultivates a 'shallow is good' philosophy, keeps faith
in his ability to charm scores of women into bed and pretends that he
has no permanent feelings about people. Jody is desperate to form a meaningful relationship and is
frustrated by the superficiality of her late-night friendships. And poor Sean is in a fine romantic
confusion. He lives with a girl he never sees and worries that he's losing her. Instead of facing
the situation he cruises in a 'comfort zone' of blissful denial.
Each of them endures a major crisis (losing a job, meeting a girl they're terrified to approach)
but Jack Lothian's superb screenplay keeps the banter low-key and the comedy completely at the
level of character. Sean and Vince are painfully aware of the future-fear associated with
dead-end jobs. Sean watches the other hospital porters punch their time clocks like mindless
proles and Vince is there when his older working pal has a heart attack.
Late Night Shopping uses that reality as a background for its character comedy.
The foursome aren't as sentimentalized as the protagonists of Local Hero and aren't
particularly Scottish in mannerisms or accents (much of the movie was actually shot in London). But
we embrace them as attractive lost souls with great potential.
Jack Lothian's script sketches these transitory relationships with a fine feeling for the
nighttime city that seems to shelter them. A lot of humor derives from their adjustments to life in
the sleeping city. Sean can coax stubborn vending machines to function. Vincent knows how
to spot girls vulnerable to his advances, especially those on their way home from failed dates. As
everyone trades news over coffee we see many key story moments in the form of hasty, impeccably edited
flashbacks, frequently interrupted and continued at a later time. In true youth-movie fashion,
the story winds up in a road trip to reconnect Sean and his girl. From that moment on everything
becomes delightfully unpredictable. The comedy is droll and low-key as opposed to fall-down funny,
but is also deep and satisfying. It's good to think that somewhere in the
world someone can still make movies like this.
All four actors do notable work with the Luke Skywalker-like Luke de Woolfson expressing a fine
state of distraction and James Lance displaying a growing need for something better than his one-night
stands. Enzo Cilenti is a winning charmer as soon as he stops feeling so inadequate. Most of the best
writing goes to Kate Ashfield's odd girl out, as she tries to provoke reactions from her male pals.
Heike Makatsch is Sean's gorgeous girlfriend; she brings a winning vulnerability to a role that
anywhere else would get by on looks alone.
The film has a perfect running gag involving a car radio. Once turned on, it cannot be turned off
or de-tuned from a nauseating soft-rock channel.
Home Vision Entertainment's DVD of Late Night Shopping looks splendid, with the
expressive photography capturing a nice midnight-to-3am ambience. The film knows how to
showcase its actors and has one of the few post-modern editorial styles I've seen that advances
the story without being an artificial annoyance - the jump-cuts here somehow work just right, and one
wouldn't want to change a frame. The many flashbacks are particularly well-handled.
The director and screenwriter share a commentary track that's a tad slow but a nice listen just the
same. There's a making-of featurette that lets us see the engagingly talented cast and filmmakers
off camera. The trailer is okay but can't convey the film's emotional
atmosphere. This is a strongly recommended disc.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Late Night Shopping rates:
Supplements: Commentary, Featurette, trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 18, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson