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A ROOM FOR ROMEO BRASS (director/writer: Shane Meadows; screenwriter: Paul Fraser; cinematographer: Ashley Rowe; editor: Paul Tothill; music: Nick Hemming; cast: Andrew Shim (Romeo Brass), Ben Marshall (Gavin ‘Knocks’ Woolley), Paddy Considine (Morell), Frank Harper (Joe Brass), Julia Ford (Sandra Woolley), James Higgins (Bill Woolley), Vicky McClure (Ladine Brass), Bob Hoskins ( Steven Laws, home tutor), Ladene Hall (Carol Brass); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: R; producers: George Faber/Charles Pattinson; Universal; 1999-UK/Canada)
“Keeps things real, up to a certain point.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A small comedy drama with a little kick that ambles along with Ken Loach-like grit for Brit lower-class working-class types and keeps things real, up to a certain point. Writer-director Shane Meadows (“Smalltime”/”Dead Man’s Shoes”/”TwentyFourSeven”) and his writer collaborator Paul Fraser (boyhood friends with Meadows) keep it both frightening and amusing, as they tell about the friendship of two 12-year-old boys in the English Midlands working-class city of Nottingham and their dark coming-of-age tale.

Gavin ‘Knocks’ Woolley (Ben Marshall) walks with a limp caused by a bad back. He’s a sly practical joker, who aspires to be a magician. Knocks’ best pal is his next door neighbor Romeo Brass (Andrew Shim)–a jolly overweight black kid that thinks of himself as a tough guy and who suffers for lack of a father role model because his white father Joe (Frank Harper) abandoned the family and was abusive to them. Romeo dwells with his beleaguered black mom (Ladene Hall) and pretty older white sister Ladene (Vicky McClure).

One afternoon a twentysomething stranger named Morell (Paddy Considine) rescues the friends from a beating by two older bullies in the park. Morell seems like just another sweet misfit among the many we have already encountered, and the garrulous oddball unemployed sad sack drives the boys around his van. It seems Morell has the hots for the teenager Ladene, who works in a jeans store. To score with her, Knocks chats Ladene up to find out her favorite clothes and then plays a trick on Morell by getting him to wear an embarrassing loud purple outfit that makes him look bad in front of the girl he loves. Morell then partners with Romeo and disdains Knocks, who undergoes a back operation and must get home tutoring. Knocks finds himself separated from his best friend by sore loser Morell, who says bad things about him and manages to keep them apart. It turns out the boys are drawn into the adult world and the shocker comes with how violent and mentally ill the once lovable Morell turns out. The boys get a lesson in manhood the hard way as they were drawn into a world of dangerous obsession by someone with a vicious streak of violence.

Meadows seems more interested in being the observer who details what went down, than in making much of what has gone down as far as offering social commentary. It seems like a film that could have just easily been turned into a documentary and been better off, especially since it shoots itself in the foot with an undeserved happy Hollywood ending. The quirky film is served well by solid natural performances by the boys and a dazzling shocker of a performance by Considine, who is unpredictable as he goes from lovable to detestable without missing a beat.

The snazzy soundtrack for this poignant teen drama includes The Specials, Ian Brown, Beth Orton, Billy Bragg and Fairport Convention.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”