Film Review: ‘Life Just Is’

A release somewhat symptomatic of what has been a poor week for new theatrical features, Alex Barrett’s micro budget British drama Life Just Is (2012) is hampered by an almost complete absence of character or narrative development. Largely consisting of sequential scenes (divided by days) where the film’s characters blandly discuss relationships, religion and/or Kierkegaard, there’s very little on show here to differentiate Barrett’s competently shot debut from a particularly philosophy-heavy episode of Hollyoaks. Whilst not completely unwatchable, we’ve seen far better homegrown produce this year, potentially made for less.

Painfully upper middle-class student collective Pete, Tom, David, Claire and Jay are a tightly-knit group of companions who now live in close proximity to each other in London, having recently graduated from university. However, it’s not long before the aches and strains of adult life (you know, working for a living and such) begin to get the better of some of the moping twentysomethings, with a series of misfiring relationships also creating fractures in the collective. Mouse-like blonde Jay (Jayne Wisener) enters into a relationship with dashing older man Bobby (ex-EastEnder Paul Nicholls), whilst the super serious Pete (Jack Gordon) struggles to come to terms with his newfound, burgeoning Christian faith.

Even with a stellar cast, it’s hard to see how Life Just Is’ bland and underwhelming screenplay could ever have evoked anything other than apathy in the gross majority of viewers. The chosen players try their very best to inject some feeling (and humour) into proceedings, but all we’re really left with is a humdrum hodge-podge of faux realism mixed with soapy melodrama. Of all the plot strands, Pete’s religious muddling is easily the most poorly developed. Plagued by strange, inexplicable bouts of God-baiting rage (at one point, taken out on his wildly pretentious book collection), Gordon’s performance is perplexing at best. At worst, it’s a slap in the face to those out there with genuine issues, searching for some form of divine intervention.

Comparisons have understandably been made with the cinema of Joanna Hogg, but whereas the aforementioned Archipelago (2011) director draws both compassion and self-conscious humour out of her privileged characters and self-contained narratives, Barrett’s Life Just Is sometimes feels like just a simple roll-call of unlikeable, overly dramatic rich kids plagued by all manner of ‘horrendous’ first world problems. Similarly frustrating are several scenes of overt self-referentialilty, where our galling graduates sitting around making snarky comments about the lack of originality in modern TV/cinema output – the words ‘pot’, ‘kettle’ and ‘black’ unfortunately spring to mind.

Whilst Barrett has admirably attempted to make a small film that deals with the ‘big questions’ with the utmost British sensibilities, Life Just Is’ execution is so laboured and reigned-in that there’s almost no satisfaction to be taken from neither characters nor story. Pete and his unintentionally clueless cohorts may not be the only ones asking “What’s it all about?”.

Daniel Green

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