A Working Class Western
Whilst laying low in Glasgow Jimmy (Robert Carlyle - The 51st State) to his surprise sees his friends and ex-wife Shirley (Shirley Henderson) as well as their daughter Marlene (Finn Atkins) on the "Vanessa" show where Shirley's current, respectable boyfriend Dek (Rhys Ifans - The Shipping News) proposes live on air. Much to Jimmy's relief Shirley turns Dek down and after being involved in a botched robbery involving clowns and a stretch Mini he decides to head back down to Nottingham to see Shirley and his daughter. Jimmy's arrival annoys the placid Dek who fears Shirley will leave him for her wild former husband and it makes Shirley have to consider where her love lays. But on Jimmy's tail are some heavies after him and their stolen money.
If you are British and enjoy modern working class comedies which feature embellished caricatures you must watch Shane Meadows' simply brilliant "Once Upon a Time in the Midlands". This movie is hysterical from start to finish from seeing the likes of Kathy Burke and Ricky Tomlinson as a couple with marriage problems on the "Vanessa" show to a robbery involving a stretch Mini and clowns. Along the way there is also Rhys Ifans playing it as a sap whilst you have the visual daftness of Ricky Tomlinson sitting on the loo next to a stack of Pot Noodles or a bingo caller juggling his mic which flies off and smacks Kathy Burke in the head. To put it simply there is not a minute which goes by in "Once Upon a Time in the Midlands" which won't have you cracking up.
But I am getting ahead of myself as there is of course the storyline and the movie's title gives us an amusing hint of what is in store with its touches of a Sergio Leone western. I said touches and those mostly come from a western style soundtrack but if you strip away all the layers of comedy the basic storyline is sort of a traditional western. We have the lover and father who went off to be an outlaw returning to see his lover and child and in doing so upsetting the apple cart with the decent guy the ex-wife is dating. And in typical western fashion he brings trouble back with him as he has bad guys after him. But when this is turned into a working class western with cliche characters in a Northern setting it takes on a whole new life.
All of this works because of Shane Meadows and writer Paul Fraser as together they have crafted a truly fantastic movie with touches of western combined with so much British working class humour. Everything about it just works from the amusing opening with the "Vanessa" show to Dek working at a clutch garage where he wields a power drill like a gun. The whole look from the stacks of Pot Noodles next to the toilet to the decor of a bedroom and Dek's cheesily pimped car is hysterical.
But it is also the great cast which Meadows has brought together who brings this all to life from Rhys Ifans and Robert Carlyle as the love rivals to Kathy Burke giving us that typical but hilarious Kathy Burke working class performance. Ever single actor plays their part brilliantly embracing the humour of their character but also some of the movies more daft scenes such as the robbery featuring clowns and a stretch Mini plus there is also a pink Robin Reliant.
The only problem "Once Upon a Time in the Midlands" has is that the humour is very modern working class British with very comical accents. Now that is fine for those accustomed to it but those who are not I would imagine that following it would be incredibly hard work.
What this all boils down to is that "Once Upon a Time in the Midlands" is a great British working class western which if you understand the accents and recognize the character types will have you in fits.