In recent years we’ve seen British actress Sheridan Smith step away from the image she crafted for herself in the Beeb’s Two Pints of Larger and a Packet of Crisps, making headway with an impressive – not to mention award-winning – career in theatre, most notably in the West End adaptation of Legally Blonde. It seems odd, then, that Smith would return to a role that seems beneath her in MJ Delaney’s Powder Room (2013). Based on Rachel Heron’s Fringe play When Women Wee, Delaney’s debut feature gathers together Oona Chaplin, singer-songwriter Kate Nash and Jaime Winstone alongside Smith.
Confined for the most part to a women’s toilet in a neon-lit nightclub, Powder Room retains much of the feel of a stage play. Smith plays Sam, a girl with a dead-end job who’s recently gone through a rough break-up. To salve her woes, she does what the director would like us to think every young woman would do – head out for a night on the tiles. There is, however, a problem. Rather than go out with her usual mates, Sam heads out with a couple of old friends; Jess (Chaplin) and Michelle (Nash), a pair of coke-addled snobs who make her feel that she must lie about herself in order to impress them. Chaos ensues when Sam’s other pals Chanel (Winstone), Paige (Riann Steele) and Saskia (Sarah Hoare) arrive.
Admittedly, Smith’s performance bolsters a film that would be better suited to a late night slot on the much maligned BBC Three. Riffling on Sex and the City mashed with elements of Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids (2011) and TV’s TOWIE, we witness Winstone urinating in the streets and lurching around the nightclub (she spends a large portion of the film with lipstick smeared across her face as a result of her promiscuous antics). Shot after shot is consumed, Chaplin and Nash exchange snide remarks whilst wiping excess coke from their noses to rub into their teeth. All this is captured in an orgy of crash zooms and rapid cuts, capturing everything from vomiting to binge-drinking, engendering the chaotic energy of 21st century clubbing.
Delaney would presumably have us believe that this is all in the name of pulling back the veil on what it’s really like to be a young woman living in contemporary London. To its credit, there is perhaps a critique, albeit mild and vague, of the problems of aspirational culture and youthful excess. The result is undeniably jarring, though there is some pleasure to be derived from the poppy tunes provided by Fake Club – the band playing in the dingy venue who also provide the soundtrack – and the film is not without the odd moment of genuine humour. And yet, like anyone who’s had a few too many on a night out, Delaney’s Powder Room staggers and stumbles.