The concept of “You Instead” — boy gets handcuffed to girl, but they end up making sweet music together at a rock festival — is pure college-kid fantasy. But with its breezy atmosphere and killer soundtrack, this hipster romantic comedy should prove a crowdpleaser at youth-skewed film fests, or even in cinema tents at other music events, before going on to fill niches as a specialty item. Pic may not be Scots helmer David Mackenzie’s best effort, but it’s easily his most lighthearted, a cheery trifle that reps a contrast to his recent pics, the apocalyptic “Perfect Sense” and U.S.-set comic misfire “Spread.”
American Adam (Brit Luke Treadaway, once again playing a musician after his debut turn in “Brothers of the Head”) and his bandmate Tyko (“Hereafter’s” Mat Baynton, a standout with excellent comic timing) together comprise electro-pop combo the Make, and are headlining at Scotland’s biggest outdoor music festival, T in the Park. (Pic was shot entirely on location during the real festival in 2010.)
On his way to meet their manager at the fest, Bobby (Gavin Mitchell), Adam gets into an argument with Morello (Natalia Tena), the English lead singer of up-and-coming, riot-grrrl-y outfit the Dirty Pinks. A passing preacher (Joseph Mydell) comes out of nowhere and handcuffs the two of them together to teach them a lesson about peace, then runs off with the key.
It’s obvious that Adam and Morello will end up falling for each other sometime before crews arrive to clean up the beer cans, but first they must bicker, learn to respect one another after playing a gig together while handcuffed, and so on. Script throws a few easily circumvented impediments in their way, such as a partner for each. Adam’s shallow arm candy, Lake (Ruta Gedmintas), a kind of cross between Paris Hilton and Kate Moss but not as interesting as either, obligingly dumps him. Getting rid of Morello’s more likable if dull b.f., Mark (Alastair Mackenzie, the helmer’s brother), poses more of problem, even at the risk of auds losing some sympathy for the central would-be lovers.
In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” style, everything and everyone gets tied up neatly in pretty albeit mud-splattered bows by the end. Along the way, the dialogue errs too often on the side of trite, and the performances feel a bit stiff, lacking the sort of spontaneity one would expect from an effort that was partially improvised, per press notes.
None of that really matters because what the pic does best, and what Mackenzie seems most interested in (apart from filming the sex scenes, which he does with his usual relish), is capturing the atmosphere of a great music festival, in all its damp, squalid, psychotropic joyfulness. Working largely with handheld cameras, pic feels properly embedded in all the hedonism, and frequently pauses just to observe the colorful crowds or take in another act performing, such Brit musician Newton Faulkner (who also interacts as himself with the characters) or folk act Jo Mango.
Given the authentic talents on display, it’s a shame the music played by the lead characters’ bands isn’t more convincingly aces. Morello’s set, produced by Glaswegian artist Brian McAlpine, is suitably raw and raucous but not very memorable, and pic strains credibility most when it tries to offer a hopelessly retro duo like the Make (with music produced by the Vaselines’ Eugene Kelly) as a plausible headline act. The ’80s may be coming back into fashion, but not this much yet. Otherwise, the lineup of tracks heard reps excellent work on the part of music supervisors Karen Elliott and Abbie Lister.