A dryly played, very British slacker comedy set in the lower reaches of the rock ‘n’ roll biz, “1234” reps a quietly impressive feature debut by writer-director Giles Borg that has fest (and some smallscreen) potential, but isn’t big enough to have much of a commercial career on the bigscreen. Still, mark Borg — a band player with musicvideo and commercials experience — as a name to monitor.
Divided into short segs like “Track One. Career Opportunities” and “Track Two. Anyone Can Play Guitar,” pic is a lightly comic primer on how to set up a band, with a lot of enthusiasm but not many professional smarts. Like several alternative comedy shows on Blighty’s TV, it gets its smiles from typically British qualities such as dedicated amateurism and an ability to muddle through, making pic more of interest locally and elsewhere in Europe than in international marts.
Stevie (Ian Bonar) is a nerdy, bespectacled, guitarist who works in an anonymous call center but dreams of setting up a group with his spaced-out drummer pal, Neil (Mathew Baynton). Spotting a fellow guitarist he admires in a pub one night, he approaches Billy (Kieran Bew) to form a band.
Billy, a gruff weirdo who’s into medieval combat sports, finally agrees, and brings in loopy bass player Emily (Lyndsey Marshal, Cleopatra on HBO’s “Rome”), a wannabe artist who’s just looking for some easygoing fun.
After they put together a demo on a few nickels and perform in half-empty pubs, tensions increase between hard-driver Billy and Stevie, who has his own aspirations. Things aren’t helped when Stevie and Emily (kind of) fall for each other, despite her having a boyfriend.
Mike Eley’s good-looking lensing of summertime suburban London and artful compositions that point up the relationships among the quartet are supported by easy chemistry between the leads. Verbal humor is mildy out-there, playing on the loser mentality of the characters, but is more mildly engaging than laugh-out-loud. Chaptering of the movie, initially witty, increasingly works against any real dramatic development.
Overall tech package is thoroughly pro, on a tab that’s clearly minimal.