Review: ‘Mischief Night’

Crime, poverty and interracial friction is handled with a refreshingly comic touch in rambunctious criss-crosser "Mischief Night." Much more accessible than English helmer Penny Woolcock's previous two theatrical features, "Mischief" is skedded for a fairly wide 45-print release in Blighty on Nov. 3, and could benefit from warm word of mouth.

Crime, poverty and interracial friction — usually the stuff of gritty, downbeat drama in Brit cinema — is handled with a refreshingly comic touch in rambunctious criss-crosser “Mischief Night.” Much more accessible than English helmer Penny Woolcock’s previous two theatrical features (modern opera “The Death of Klinghoffer,” and offbeat drama “The Principles of Lust”), “Mischief” is skedded for a fairly wide 45-print release in Blighty on Nov. 3, and could benefit from warm word of mouth, like the 1999 sleeper hit “East Is East,” which it somewhat resembles. However, pic may be a trickier prospect internationally given cast’s broad Yorkshire accents.

“Mischief” reps the third part of a trilogy — along with made-for-TV features “Tina Goes Shopping” and “Tina Takes a Break” — all written and helmed by Woolcock, that center around plucky if harried single-mum Tina (Kelli Hollis), who lives in a white, working-class housing project in Leeds.

Tina’s brood includes teenage son Tyler (Michael Taylor), 12-year-old Kimberley (Holly Kenny), and youngest scamp Macauley (Jake Hayward). Plot pivots around the week leading up to Nov. 4, aka Mischief Night, an evening when Yorkshire kids traditionally commit minor acts of vandalism.

On the Sunday before Mischief Night, Kimberley finds out her dad isn’t dead, as she’s always been led to believe. In a huff, she storms off to the neighborhood across the park which is now almost entirely populated by Muslim Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. She meets Asif (Qasim Akhtar), a wild kid her age who’s the younger brother of newly sprung jailbird Immie (Ramon Tikaram).

Immie and Tina were once close, but Immie’s now stuck in an unhappy arranged marriage. Scenes shuffle between Tina and Immie’s bumpy rekindled romance and their extended families’ hijinks.

Tina’s dad Don (Gwyne Hollis), the town’s biggest pusher, affectionately teaches grandson Tyler the drug-dealing ropes, while one of Don’s underlings, Qassim (Christopher Simpson), who was Immie’s old biz partner, coerces Asif into selling heroin.

Meanwhile, inspired by Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” Asif and Immie’s teenage sister Sarina (Sarah Byrne) dresses up as a boy to enjoy one night of freedom before she’s married off to an imported cousin. When Don buys a hot-air balloon to enjoy the fireworks on Mischief Night, all the pic’s various subplots (maybe a few too many) neatly come together.

As in Shakespeare’s comedies, all’s well that end’s well, but the darker stuff of tragedy is just visible around the edges. Woolcock paints a realistic portrait of this deprived, crime-soaked milieu, where junkie mothers push their kids in baby buggies to score in the park, and seemingly sweet little old ladies turn out to be smack dealers, the last revelation played strictly for black-humored laughs.

Similarly, the local rise of Muslim fundamentalism is daringly treated with cheeky humor. Narration by Tina casually drops in acute observations about how Asians and Caucasians used to be much more integrated when she was young.

Helming is confident and smooth, and Woolcock coaxes fine work out of the cast, several of which (Kelli Hollis, Tikaram) are familiar faces from Brit TV but who will be almost unknown abroad. The young thesps are particularly impressive, giving sturdy naturalistic perfs.

One major quibble: while the tech package is pro and lensing by Robbie Ryan makes fine use of milky sunlight, pic looks like it was shot during the summer. Consequently, Brit auds may be baffled by everyone walking around in tank tops and T-shirts in the middle of November, even accounting for Northerners’ famous fortitude.

Mischief Night

U.K.

Production

A Verve Pictures release (in the U.K.) of UK Film Council, FilmFour, Screen Yorkshire presentation, of a Company Pictures production, with the support of National Lottery through the UK Film Council's Premiere Fund, Yorkshire Forward, the European Union through Screen Yorkshire Production Fund, part funded by the European Regional Development Fund, FilmFour. (International sales: Pathe Pictures, London.) Produced by Abi Bach, Willow Grylis. Executive producers, George Faber, Charles Pattinson, Robyn Slovo, Peter Dale, Tessa Ross, Hugo Heppell. Directed, written by Penny Woolcock.

Crew

Camera (color), Robbie Ryan; editor, Michael Parker; music supervisors, Bobby Friction, Nihal ; production designer, John Ellis; art director, Jo Baker; costume designer, Joey Attawia; sound (Dolby Digital), Rupert Ivey; supervising sound editor, Graham Headicar. Reviewed at London Film Festival (New British Cinema), Oct. 21, 2006. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Kelli Hollis, James Foster, Michael Taylor, Holly Kenny, Jake Hayward, Ramon Tikaram, Qasim Akhtar, Sarah Byrne, Christopher Simpson, Gwyne Hollis, Shahid Ahmed, Katherine Kelly, Mary Wray, Olga Grahame. (English, Urdu dialogue)
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