Wah-Wah

 
Directed by: Richard E. Grant
Written by:Richard E. Grant
Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Miranda Richardson, Nicholas Hoult, Emily Watson, Julie Walters, Celia Imrie
Released: June 22, 2006
Grade: B+

Do you know the actor Richard E. Grant?  He’s been in the business for over 25 years and his credits include Gosford Park, The Portrait Of A Lady, The Age Of Innocence, Dracula, The Player, Hudson Hawk and L.A. Story.  Now for the first time, he’s taken on the challenges of being a film director.  Grant isn’t doing this to see how comfortable the director’s chair is.  He’s written a story very close to his heart and wants to share it with a worldwide audience.

Grant was born and raised in Swaziland, a small country bordering South Africa, and it is here where the film is set.  From what I understand, it is the first major film to be shot in Swaziland.  The entire story is based on Grant’s upbringing as a teenager and the strained relationship he had with his two parents.  The names in the film may be different but this essentially, an autobiography.

Young actor Nicholas Hoult (About A Boy) plays an introverted teenager named Ralph Compton.  Ralph’s parents divorced several years ago and he was sent to boarding school not long after.  Now that his studies are complete, Ralph has returned home to live his father (Byrne).  Things have changed however.

His father has married a cheery American air hostess named Ruby (Watson).  The thought of his dad being with a new woman makes Ralph feel uneasy but he soon finds himself drawn to Ruby’s impulsive personality.  They become close friends and Ruby becomes the strong mother figure that he’s gone without for so long.  Life looks good.

That is until two major obstacles arise.  The first is the reemergence of his real mother (Richardson) who has returned after moving to London.  The second is an alcoholic addiction which has taken control of his father.  Ralph is a likeable, happy-go-lucky kid but these escalating problems at home threaten to leave a lifelong scar.

It’s an admirable directorial debut from Richard E. Grant.  He’s crafted interesting characters and a finale which will reduce many to tears.  Unfortunately, the emotional impact of the film is lessened by the fragmented nature of the story.  By jumping quickly from event to event, it looks more like a highlight reel than a following story.

The top performance is that of Gabriel Byrne.  He wasn’t Grant’s first choice for the role but in hindsight, it’s hard to think who would have done a better job.  Byrne has cast aside his usual Irish accent and produced a believable English one.  The other performances feel slightly over done.  Emily Watson’s American accent is a stretch and Nicholas Hoult’s dialogue didn’t feel natural.

Grant was recently in Brisbane to help promote the film and I was lucky enough to hear him speak at a question and answer session.  The tale of what went on behind the scenes of this film was fascinating.  So much so that Grant has written a book which details the challenges he faced when making this motion picture.  It’s called The Wah-Wah Diaries and by the time you read this review, I’ll have already starting reading it.