Fresh, funny and thoroughly engaging, “Get Real” plays like a British version of John Hughes’ teen-angst comedies from the early ’80s. Well-tooled in every department, from its bright widescreen lensing through freshman Simon Shore’s direction to the performances by its mostly unknown cast, this dryly humorous portrait of a high school kid (who happens to be gay) and his romantic travails proved a popular choice at the Edinburgh festival, where it won the Audience Award. With the right marketing push and good reviews, pic could catch on locally and internationally in a moderate way among mainstream auds, its true market.
Set in the southern English town of Basingstoke — a byword for upper-middle-class respectability, and a close match to Hughes’ Chicago suburbs — the movie follows a group of teenage schoolchildren whose lives seem to unfold in a parallel universe to their parents’.
Chief among them is 16-year-old Steven (Ben Silverstone), whose best friend and confidante is dumpy neighbor Linda (Charlotte Brittain). She’s the only one who knows his terrible secret — he’s gay! — and, even worse, that he has the hots for the school’s leading jock, local rich kid Dixon (Brad Gorton).
Dixon, who’s the object of every girl’s dreams at the school, is dating blond goddess Christina (Louise J. Taylor), a local mail-order-catalog model. Imagine Steven’s surprise when, on a nervous expedition at a public toilet, Dixon turns out to be the guy with whom Steven has just exchanged a note through the wall of his stall.
In a beautifully written and played scene that sets the tone for the pic’s humorous treatment of its subject, the two youngsters sit on a park bench and react to the event: Steven, understandably, is in seventh heaven with the man of his dreams; all Dixon sees, however, is his cover blown and the jaws of hell suddenly opening up.
From this basic setup, the movie spins out several plotlines that build into a warm and funny portrait of British teen angst, ‘burbs-style. Central thread is always Steven’s story — when and how he will come out to his parents, friends and the rest of the school — but Patrick Wilde’s script, based on his first play, keeps a large number of characters on the boil, from the loopy Linda to the perceptive Jessica (Stacy A. Hart), who is puzzled by Steven’s coolness to her advances.
Pic loses some of its comic momentum in the middle stretch, where the Steven-Dixon story hits choppy waters, but recovers its plot-driven shape after Steven submits an anonymous “I’m gay” essay to the school’s magazine. Ending maintains the feel-good tone, despite a somewhat obvious grandstanding of emotions at the climax.
Aside from its dry, understated humor, the most remarkable achievement of Wilde’s script is its dialogue, which exactly reflects the speech patterns of kids in respectable, middle-class southern England, rather than imposing some snappy cinematic version derived more from inner-city lingo. There isn’t a weak link in the cast (several of whom are first-timers), and ensemble work is fine.
Special kudos, however, goes to Brittain as Steven’s overweight confidante, and to Silverstone (“The Browning Version,” “Lolita”) as Steven in a perf that finds a perfect balance between teendom and maturity. Gorton is fine as hunk Dixon, and Hart good as Jessica. Only regret is the underdeveloped character of Wendy (Kate McEnery, daughter of Peter McEnery), a strong-minded schoolgirl who also carries a torch for Dixon.
Widescreen lensing by Alan Almond is a consistent delight, sharp and bright, and slyly comic use is made of several well-known songs on the soundtrack.