It may be a stretch to herald The Goob (2014) as an East Anglian Gummo but it certainly shares some similarities with Harmony Korine’s debut. The flat, dusty Norfolk setting is the type of landscape seldom represented in UK cinema, and there are moments when it feels like you’re watching a US Midwestern counterpart. Liam Walpole as the titular figure also has the kind of striking otherworldly features that made the feral, cat-drowning buddies in Gummo so watchable (it’s no surprise to learn he was offered a modelling contract after the film was completed). There’s an appealingly enigmatic quality to both Goob and the film itself, which goes some way to making up for narrative shortcomings.
Like the recently lauded UK feature Catch me Daddy (which shares a similar social-realist bent with The Goob), director/writer Guy Myhill is able to find a beauty in broken down, dilapidated surroundings, most noticeably around the seemingly customer-free roadside cafe where Goob lives with his cuckolded, emotionally frayed mother (a brilliant, unshowy turn by Sienna Guillory) and her bullying sociopathic boyfriend Womack (Sean Harris). Goob assists with the various businesses Womack has set up, although the two have a mutual disdain for each other, Goob resenting Womack’s wandering eye for the waitress who runs his rundown establishment (Hannah Spearritt).
Given to roaming around the Broads on a clunky moped when he’s not eyeballs deep in his daily drudgery, Goob’s salvation comes in the form of a pretty migrant worker (Marama Corlett) whom Womack employs as a vegetable picker on his extended property. With his gangly frame and piercing blue eyes, Walpole commands the screen, despite his obvious lack of acting experience. He’s ably supported by the more seasoned cast, particularly Harris, who offers a masterclass in skin-crawling creepiness. It’s reassuring to see the actor can still dial it down and offer that level of naturalism in between the bigger and broader Hollywood stuff. But for all the kitchen sink magic hour lyricism on display, The Goob sometimes struggles to shake off the nagging feeling that what you’re watching is essentially a short film which has been padded out to feature length. The secondary characters outside of Goob’s dysfunctional family set-up feel painfully unexplored. Spearritt certainly looks and acts the part but isn’t given much to do, and a subplot involving her estranged boyfriend (Paul Popplewell) is listless and uninvolving. Those issues aside, there’s still much to admire about The Goob. Myhill’s strong sense of mood and locale mark him out as a filmmaker to watch and offers a hint that we may have our own Ramin Bahrani equivalent further down the line.