“What if you woke up homeless?” reads the tagline for low-budget British drama No Fixed Abode (N.F.A., 2012), evoking the kind of vexing slogan you might hear on an advert for a homelessness charity. This may seem like a glib comment but it actually provides some insight into both the strengths and weaknesses of the piece. It’s the first offering from 104 Films who have financed a number of features surrounding issues of disability and disadvantage. Written and directed by Steve Rainbow, who has firsthand experience of working with homeless people, it is an earnest drama that sorely lacks cinematic verve.
Adam (Patrick Baladi of The Office fame) wakes up one morning to find himself in a hostel with no recollection of how he got there. Happily married with a young daughter, he drifted off into a slightly inebriated slumber on his birthday only to awake in an unfamiliar room with his belongings gone. Angry and confused he leaves the hostel and tries to return home, but the phone remains unanswered and knocks on the door go unheard. He attempts to explain the situation to the police but they can find no record of his residency and the hostel, now full, are unable to offer him a bed. Thus, Adam – a well-spoken, middle-class man – finds himself sleeping rough. It’s a neat concept, with the amnesiac protagonist piecing together past events.
The thriller aspect of proceedings soon drifts out of focus however, and the film begins to take on the tone of an informational video. With the budgetary constraints and less than impressive supporting performances hard to ignore, it is the story (or lack thereof) which ultimately trips No Fixed Abode up. Rather than sustaining the early tension, Adam’s quest to discover the truth takes a back seat as he stumbles through a variety of – undoubtedly realistic – scenarios in which a man in his position might find himself. He is picked up by the police for loitering, stolen from at knifepoint, spurned by passers by when asking for money, and picked up by outreach workers.
Some of No Fixed Abode’s sequences do create sparks of drama but they largely lack urgency or conflict and begin to feel like someone ticking incidents off a list. The denouement may be a little unsatisfying, but ultimately concludes proceedings with an unexpected poignancy without supposing to supply answers. Adam similarly proves an interesting lead and subverts the audience expectations of what a homeless person may be. It all serves a worthy purpose, but doesn’t have the narrative or visual chops to manage much more than that.