“Try not to fuck it up, but don’t worry if you do.” Full of late twenties anguish and uncertainty, this rather tongue in cheek mantra could be applied to many aspects of Chanya Button’s Burn Burn Burn, a film which champions the notion of trying again, and again, if at first you don’t succeed. It’s clear throughout the young director’s debut feature that this project has been a labour of love both on and off-screen; a meandering tale of trial and error in which she, and a tremendous cast, have invested a great deal.
Taken from that most famous of ‘Beat’ streams of consciousness, Burn Burn Burn‘s title references a passage from Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and screams carpe diem at the top of its lungs from first to last. A funeral is not often the departure point for an odyssey of personal discovery but a band of goths sing a lament of being ‘Dead on Arrival’ as family and best pals Seph (Laura Carmichael) and Alex (Chloe Pirrie) gather to mourn the premature passing of their son and friend, Dan (Jack Farthing). At the behest of a young man who appears only via a series of webcam-recorded videos from beyond the grave, Alex and Seph soon sack off the mundane irritation of day jobs to embark on a quest to scatter his ashes around the UK.
Farthing’s performance, restricted at all times by a small frame and ever-decreasing health is impressive, achieving a great deal of pathos in the film’s latter stages. There may be a few diversions, bumps and mishaps along the way – most notably from troublesome other halves, but it’s a road trip movie that meditates on life, death, a sense of self, being truthful to your nearest and dearest and making the most of whatever time we have on this planet. A brief cameo by the great Alice Lowe as a tour guide at Glastonbury Abbey is worth its weight in gold and a late appearance by Alison Steadman allows the final third to really take flight towards an emotional conclusion.
An overnight stay at a hippy retreat run by Julian Rhind-Tutt’s Adam is a dalliance that doesn’t really pay off and, as if realising the unwanted distraction, Alex and Seph hightail it to the open road. Both Pirrie and Carmichael put in solid turns here, the former given a little more room to express herself given a troubled backstory which she brings to the surface in well controlled waves that are genuinely affecting. Darkly comic, touching and well performed by a strong cast, this British indie is as much a journey of self-discovery as it is a process of grieving that will make you laugh, cry and realise that sweating the small stuff is a waste of the precious little time we all have. Burn Burn Burn is a promising debut from a gifted filmmaker.
Matthew Anderson| @behind_theseens