Funny and touching, and with a largely experienced cast meshing smoothly on screen, ensembler “The Waiting Room” has more emotional truths and entertainment value than a whole bonfire of low-budget miserabilist Brit dramas. Neatly written feature debut by scripter-director Roger Goldby, whose short “It’s Good to Talk” was Oscar-nommed in 1998, is a highly exportable item that should reap modest returns in commercial arenas.
After being shortlisted for the NHK/Sundance award in 2000, script waited six years for U.K. funding before Goldby teamed with producer Sarah Sulick to raise the coin themselves, largely from private investors. At its Edinburgh fest preem, where it was well received by auds, pic was amazingly still without a local distrib.
Basically a meet-cute yarn, pic rapidly intros a large number of South London characters whose relationships initially take some sorting out.
First seen having joyful sex until they’re interrupted by a small kid, George (Rupert Graves) and Anna (Anne-Marie Duff) turn out to be next-door neighbors rather than marrieds. Anna is bringing up her daughter single-handedly after separating from Toby (Adrian Bower), and rather unwisely has started a carnal liaison with George, unemployed house-husband to her best friend, Jem (Zoe Telford), a manic over-achiever.
In another part of Balham, easygoing Stephen (Ralf Little) works as a male nurse at a retirement home, where he’s particularly devoted to one dying patent, Helen (vet Phyllida Law, terrif). Stephen also looks after Roger (Frank Finlay), an absent-minded oldie who goes every afternoon to the train station, purportedly to meet a wife who never arrives.
One day, in the station’s waiting room, Stephen and Anna are accidentally brought together by Roger. Both listen patiently to the old man’s ramblings — but afterward, in a nicely underplayed sequence, realize they could have just met the partner of their dreams.
Rest of the film hinges on the pair, who don’t even know each other’s names, meeting again at the station. Meanwhile, the script fans out to show their (and their friends’ and partners’) complicated emotional lives.
There’s nothing remotely cutting-edge about “The Waiting Room,” apart from a well-turned script, fine performances and small, human grace notes that will chime with any general audience. Also, unlike many Brit relationship dramedies, it’s not set either in the media world or among North London yuppies.
Pitching the tone somewhere between all-out romantic comedy and serious relationship drama, without toppling into either category, Goldby navigates his cast and characters with skill. Each thesp gets his or her moments apart from the ensemble — both Telford as the tart-tongued Jem and Christine Bottomley as Stephen’s partner, the neurotic Fiona, are especially good in their set-pieces.
Graves is also fine as the gratingly unctuous George, who’s forever trying to re-bed Anna. But it’s the perky Duff (“The Magdalene Sisters,” “Garage”) who motors the movie as the guilt-ridden but determined single mom.
Technical packaging is smooth without being slick. James Aspinall’s lensing of autumnal Balham and Wandsworth creates a recognizable but modestly fairytale South London, while Edmund Butt’s chamber score contribs to the basically romantic mood at key points. Final reel is a real charmer.