Old Boys is another modern take on the play Cyrano de Bergerac. A tale that has been used for inspiration and adapted multiple times since its creation and it shows. This version of the tale is set in an all boy boarding school in England. The story centres around a boy called Amberson. He is played by Alex Lawther which is a great choice as he has a great talent for acting, especially as shy and awkward teenagers which he seems to play in most film and TV he appears like Black Mirror and End of the F***ing World. But this time with a lot less psychopathic tendencies.
Amberson stumbles across Agnes, a French girl who feels trapped in England as she is the only one who can help her writer/teacher father with his novel. He instantly feels a connection, but initially, she doesn’t feel the same way. Instead, she falls for the stereotypical jock, Winchester who she mistakes for being thought-provoking and creative, two things he is the opposite of. Amberson and Winchester develop and friendship as he helps keep Agnes interested in his new mate by crafting expressions of his supposed love in unique and, often the top few over the top ways.
The jail-like school lives by a motto “survival of the fittest”. Which is something that is shown throughout the movie. To survive there and be accepted, you need to be good at the brutal game, Streamers. The biggest event in this sport is when old students of Cal Something that Winchester is almost exclusively good at. This is something we see Amberson daydream of doing well at a couple points from the beginning of the film. Amberson and Winchester both face questions about themselves and the type of people they are becoming while on their path. The film has a very “be true to yourself and you will be great” message. Their arcs and key themes are a trademark for a standard coming of age story you’re used to with teen movies and that does show. I could feel myself rolling my eyes at some points throughout. Not only that but the main plotline that the film is adapting from is so overused and annoyingly predictable at points due to its lack of imagination with the source.
That said, director Toby Macdonald does try to combat these feelings in a few ways. The main ones being the visual styling of the film and the characters we encounter within the world. I kept getting flashes of Wes Anderson when watching this film. Not so much in a visual sense but in characters and the comedy. The deadpan delivery of some unnatural and funny dialogue. This and the uniquely British humour of the film helps in making the interactions between the characters where this film is strongest. Especially between the two leads.
Influences also come out in the characters, Comedic characters that not everyone will appreciate but hilarious for those that do. These surreal, over the top people with a unique dress sense are staples when it comes to Anderson and his style, a parallel that I did notice within this movie. There is a shed-load of delightful characters like that. But, there are very few that aid in the development of the story there only reason for existence is to flesh out the school and give it life. Many are purely there to be funny such as the anti-establishment rebel character who will tell Amberson how he plans to bring down the government.
The characters with a larger presence such as school teacher Huggins are equal parts important and silly. Played by Joshua Mcguire who has had small roles in films like Mr Turner and Cinederella (2015). He is the out of touch and uncool gym teacher, constantly looking for the attention of the head says a lot about what the film is getting at. How a life of fitting in and not being your true self can create a hollow and cookie cutter sportsman. He is the epitome of an old boy and what going through a school like this can do to you.
Old Boys is a sweet and quirky coming of age comedy, but it is let down by how it doesn’t manage to take these old tropes and predictability of that genre and turn it into something fresh. But in the end, it does provide you with some interesting characters, some strong leads and a cute love story to counteract these shortcomings. It will be having its worldwide premiere in the best of British strand at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on the 21st and 23rd of June. I suggest seeking it out because even though it isn’t anything new it is still very enjoyable.