Following his little-seen sophomore effort, Patricia Highsmith adaptation “The Cry of the Owl,” writer-director Jamie Thraves returns to the playful, slice-of-contempo-London-life terrain of his debut, “The Low Down,” with “Treacle Jr.” Aside from its eponymous kitten, pic plays as a virtual three-hander involving a gentle homeless man, an eccentric motormouth and a hissably selfish femme. Ultra-low-budget drama showcases vivid character work and quirky comedy, but the plot is insufficiently engaging or credible. Thraves aficionados won’t need a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down, but less indulgent auds may find it unappetizing.
For unexplained reasons, Tom (Tom Fisher) deserts his wife and child in Birmingham, U.K., to become intentionally homeless in London. Following an attack by youths in a park, he attracts the attention of Aidan (Aiden Gillen, who starred in “The Low Down” and also appeared in “The Wire”) in a hospital waiting room.
Despite efforts to give Aidan the slip, Tom is unable to shake off this aggressively friendly misfit, who sports oddball attire (sample button badge: “1990 Year Of the Horse”) and a distinctive Irish-accented lisp. When the two arrive at Aidan’s tower-block apartment, it’s surprisingly revealed he has a g.f., although the verbal and physical abuse Linda (Riann Steele) metes out, coupled with a lack of any amorous or even amiable interest, suggests the term is misapplied. Tom moves in temporarily, along with feline friend Treacle Jr., who has to be hidden from allergic Linda.
Steele and especially Gillen evidently enjoy going off the deep end with these mismatched characters, while Fisher dials it down, way down, for soft-spoken, taciturn Tom. But former musicvid helmer Thraves takes the audience’s interest (and belief) in these characters too much for granted, especially given the unexpected stylistic restraint throughout, especially the drab compositions inside the trio’s humble home. A visit to London’s Horniman Museum, with its eclectic collection of dead animals and musical instruments, is a welcome escape, and also a tonal fit with the screenplay’s whimsical register.
While a more charismatic actor might have helped sustain the challengingly enigmatic role of Tom, few will entirely resist the infectious, if irritating, charms of Gillen’s Aidan, and Thraves’ screenplay does offer the character a conventionally satisfying spurt of growth in the final reels. Tom, it’s suggested, is likewise rewarded with the outcome auds will desire, albeit unaccompanied by any particular insight into any of his decisions.
Tech credits are of a piece with the pic’s bare-bones budget. A gently plaintive instrumental score by Stems, whose lineup includes the multitasking Thraves, does the job.