(director/writer: Brian Welsh; screenwriter: from the play by Kieran Hurley/Kieran Hurley; cinematographer: Benjamin Kracun; editor: Robin Hill; music: Stephen Hindman/Penelope Trappes; cast: Cristian Ortega (Johnno), Lorn Macdonald (Spanner), Laura Fraser (Alison), Amy Manson (Cat), Gemma McElhinney (Laura), Kevin Mains (Les), Rachel Jackson (Wendy), Ross Mann (D-Man ), Neil Leiper (Fido), Brian Ferguson (Policeman stepfather of Johnno); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Camilla Bray; Rosetta Productions; 2019-UK-B/W & Color)

“Enjoyable as nostalgia.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Scottish writer-director Brian Welsh (“In Our Name”/”Glasgow Girls”) in his genial coming-of-age, comedy-musical evokes the rave scene of the mid-nineties in Scotland and pushes hard to clue us in that even unapproved parental teenage friendships can be very productive ones. Beats is enjoyable as nostalgia, perhaps another Trainspotting for another generation. Welsh bases it on the 2012 play by Kieran Hurley (a one-man monologue). The film made the festival circuit in places like the International Film Festival in Rotterdam, where it was celebrated as an audience favorite.Subtitles are provided for all the slangy Scottish expressions and there’s the mute buttons if watching it on video for all the excessive cursing.

The colorful Welsh was 13 in 1995 and he was a rave fanatic. He became a DJ, did drugs and attended a technical college, where he began to write and edit film. His work as a documentary editor led to the London Film School accepting him on an editing track, but he ended up directing a student film. The success of that film made it possible to get funding for what he considers his first film, In Our Name.

In 1994, in a housing project in West Lothian, Scotland, near Edinburgh, teenager mismatched working-class best mates, the middle-class and reserved Johnno (Cristian Ortega) and the wayward wild boy from the lower-class Spanner (Lorn Macdonald), are dancing in their bedrooms to rave music coming to them from the pirate radio broadcasts of D-Man (Ross Mann). If I understand them correctly, the DJ plays the ‘bangin’ choons’ they love. When word reaches them of a major weekend event, just down the motorway, they know they must be there even if it’s illegal and they must go behind the backs of their folks. In 1994, The Criminal Justice Bill banned raves because of pressure raised by the tabloids. This, of course, had youth groups protesting and ignoring the ban.

The spirit of those days is captured at the rave event. It’s shot in a shimmering black and white by Benjamin Kracun with color thrown in at times to change the mood. Laura Fraser does a nice turn playing Johnno’s long-suffering nervy mum. Politics was kept simmering below the surface, but should have been given a bigger play. Though few of the cast make much of an impression, the music rocks and the bromance is handled with kid gloves. It plays now as more of a curio than anything relevant, as its time to rave has long been gone.

The gist of the film has the boys living it up over the course of the evening, irritating drug dealers, finding romance, getting into trouble with the law, and making a positive statement about themselves being brought together by the music. It’s assumed when they return home, because of all sorts of pressures exercised on them, they will probably never see each other again (or at least if they should meet they won’t whoop it up like they do here).

Enjoyment was curbed by rave scenes going on for too long without being edited, the friendship agenda seemed too forced at times and the after the climax scene telling us where the boys are now gave me too much information I didn’t really need to know. But, whatever, dancing is fun and that’s what this warm-hearted film is good at showing us.

REVIEWED ON 12/28/2019  GRADE: B-