Dusty and Me is the kind of film that you’d expect to find playing on a Sunday afternoon. It’s the tale of a misfit trying to find their place in the world, an animal sidekick, some bumbling bad guys, and nothing too offensive.
Derek ‘Dusty’ Springfield (Luke Newberry) is a young man returning home to Yorkshire after attending private school, waiting to hear if he’ll be accepted into Oxford University. Dusty is portrayed as something of a black sheep of the family, though this is less because of anything he’s done that could be considered particularly bad, but because he’s smarter than his family.
His mother Lil (Lesley Sharp) and big brother Little Eddie (Ben Batt) offer him support and encouragement, but he struggles to connect with his father Big Eddie (Ian Hart) or make new friends. However, this all changes when he takes on a disowned greyhound named Slapper.
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This is where the film struggles to decide on the tone that it wants. At times it’s trying to be a comedy – and isn’t too bad at it – whilst also bombarding viewers with Dusty lamenting Slapper as his only friend. It seems to want to be a family-friendly comedy, but also wants to be something deeper and resonating. Unfortunately Dusty and Me isn’t original enough to be able to succeed at this. The awkward outsider finding their only friend in an animal has been done a number of times before.
The plot expands in expected ways when Slapper helps Dusty to become noticed by local girl Chrissie (Genevieve Gaunt), leading to a slightly awkward romantic sub-plot. When something bad happens to Slapper (in this case getting stolen) the rest of the cast come together to help rescue her.
Sadly, despite good intentions, Dusty and Me feels like it lacks any real originality and substance. Dusty feels less like an outsider and more an arrogant young man who believes that his intelligence makes him better than other people. He lacks any real development and the acceptance he receives later in the film comes more from people wanting to help Slapper than anything he’s earned.
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The supporting cast are good, with some recognisable and likeable actors in the mix, but many are underused. Iain Glen in particular is one of the strongest actors in the cast, yet never feels like he’s being used to his full potential.
Dusty and Me has good intentions; it wants to tell an inspiring and uplifting story, yet lacks any real nuance, drama or real character growth.
The production design works well, recreating the 1970s pretty well. Where some films and television shows set within the period often feel drab and dull, with East is East and Life on Mars springing to mind as prime examples, Dusty and Me manages to be both colourful and bright. These design choices inject life into a time and setting that other projects often portray as somewhat depressing.