A tony cast of British character actors get a good workout in “Remember Me?,” a well-scripted and confidently played comedy of manners that stays just this side of door-banging farce. Though bigscreen business looks to be marginal for what is basically a small movie, enthusiasts of solid, well-played English fare will get a charge out of the talent on display, and small-screen sales should be healthy. Pic is also ripe material for a Hollywood remake.
Scripter-playwright Michael Frayn (“Clockwise,” “Noises Off”) loosely based the work on a ’60s teleplay, “Jamie on a Flying Visit,” starring Dinsdale Landen, Anton Rogers and Caroline Mortimer, about a rich guy stopping off to visit his former, now married girlfriend. Apart from the central idea, however, pic is essentially a new work. It’s the second feature from U.K. company Talisman (“Rob Roy”) and was shot, fittingly, at Ealing Studios, London, for less than $3 million. Pic opened for a limited run at London’s National Film Theatre on July 18, then fans out across the country.
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Frayn’s experience in legit and TV shows in the script’s construction, which has a sense of escalating absurdity that’s always character- and dialogue-driven, with the inevitability of a ticking bomb. Though the movie is almost entirely set within a small suburban house on the edge of London, there’s none of the cramped feel that often afflicts Brit comedy, thanks to TV helmer Nick Hurran’s busy direction and the sheer quality of the cast and material.
Lorna (Imelda Staunton) and Ian (Rik Mayall) are suburban marrieds whose lives are on auto pilot: She could have been a promising writer but now fills in insurance forms, he is out of work and applying for job interviews. Into their lives one day bursts oleaginous businessman Jamie (Robert Lindsay), Lorna’s b.f. from some 20 years ago, who claims he left his wallet at home and, as he happened to be in the area, needs some cash to buy gas for his Rolls-Royce.
What started out as an apparent fleeting visit gradually turns into Jamie — plus his sexy bimbo girlfriend, Georgina (Natalie Walker) — staying for dinner, much to the annoyance, and sexual agitation, of Ian. When Jamie’s car is stolen, the two end up sleeping over in a house already bursting to the seams with Ian and Lorna’s horn-playing son, Mark (Tim Matthews), rebellious daughter, Jessica (Emily Bruni), and her black, auto-stealing boyfriend, Chas (Razaaq Adoti).
Next day, when it turns out Jamie is on the run from some financial scandal and is being pursued by two hit men with Uzis, the chaos escalates. Meanwhile, Lorna finds herself falling for Jamie all over again, and Jamie’s gun-toting wife (Haydn Gwynne) turns up on the doorstep.
As in the best British character comedy, more is left unsaid, especially in pic’s early going, and both script and cast have a ball with the emotional tics of middle-class English manners. Only in the running joke of the Sloane Ranger-like Georgina always saying “sorry” is this element overplayed. Where the movie scores, in its second half, is in leaving Brit politeness behind and pursuing the plot strands to the limits of anarchic absurdity, all with the precision of a Swiss watch. In this respect, the movie really does play like an updated version of the overused term “Ealing comedy.”
Among the ensemble cast, Lindsay stands out as the oily Jamie, smooth answers ever at the ready to disguise a chaotic business and personal life. Largely abandoning his usual manic persona, Mayall is very good as the declasse husband, teaming well with the quieter Staunton. Gwynne is terrif in a small role at the end as Jamie’s hellbent spouse, and Brenda Blethyn cameos in virtually a spoof of her funny-voiced character in “Secrets & Lies.” The younger cast, including drama student Walker as the dizzy Georgina, are all fine.
Tech credits are smooth in all departments, with a clever music score that echoes the son’s interest in classical music.