“Up on the Roof” is a bright wad of candyfloss that slides down easily but leaves little aftertaste. Breezily directed, likably played and avoiding every open manhole cover of the school-reunion genre, this story-with-songs about five university friends over a 15-year span is as good as it can be with a no-name cast and so-so score. With stars in the roles, a less vanilla script, higher-profile cleffing and better marketing, this could have hitched a profitable ride on the New Brit Cinema wave, instead of crashing and burning, as it did, on its opening weekend in Blighty. However, judging by its rapturous reception at the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., fest, pic’s offshore chances could still be bright, given a muscular distrib prepared to get behind it.
Divided into three neatly dovetailed sections, film opens in 1979 at Hull U., northern England, where five students are taking their final exams. There’s horny, well-spoken art student Bryony (Amy Robbins); her black lover, wannabe pop star Scott (Adrian Lester); poncho-wearing, northern weirdo Keith (Daniel Ryan); Irish mophead Tim (Billy Carter), and dumpy, badge-wearing politico Angela (Clare Cathcart).
The group, who have a barbershop quintet, blow their chance to sing at a graduation gig, and instead give an impromptu perf up on the roof of their lodgings. They vow to reunite 15 years hence, when they’re “halfway through life,” at the Cote d’Azur villa of Tim’s parents.
In fact, their next get-together is in 1985, for Bryony’s wedding to Gavin (Robin Herford), her nerdy, balding prof. Assembling in an English village where Bryony’s snooty mom (Lavinia Bertram) lives, the five have so far made unequal steps up the career ladder. Scott, who we now learn dumped Bryony earlier, begs her to pull out of what everyone privately reckons is a doomed marriage.
Nine years later, on the appointed date, they gather in southern France. Bryony is separated from Gavin and living uneasily with Tim; and the career dice have been shaken yet again among the group, who finally try to solve the Bryony-Scott emotional conundrum.
Though the fact is unacknowledged in the titles, pic (which underwent early development at Channel 4) is based on a 1987 musical play by Simon Moore and Jane Prowse who, sharing key credits here, have done a good job in translating the idea to the screen. Along with d.p. Nic Morris and editor Peter Hollywood, Moore (who wrote the Emmy-winning miniseries “Gulliver’s Travels” and helmed the stylish Liam Neeson-Laura San Giacomo whodunit “Under Suspicion” back in 1991) keeps the pace gently moving forward and imparts a fluid feel to the action.
Ensemble work by the five leads is seamless, with special plaudits going to Robbins as the vacillating Bryony and to Ryan as the deceptively easygoing Keith, who gets all the best lines. The a cappella songs provide dramatic breathing space rather than advance the story or characters, but also function as a constant reminder of the pic’s main theme — harmonious friendship.
With its careful cross-section of characters, and an overall bright, positive tone that’s very ’60s in feel, the movie could have been a recipe for yucky disaster. Instead, it’s simply enjoyable but bland — an idea that desperately needs more edge and dramatic conflict to work in today’s market. South African locations do convincing duty for the French Riviera in the final seg.