The Low Down (review)

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All Grown Up and Nowhere to Go

I wonder if I’ll get tired of these GenXer relationship stories as I get older and finish getting through my own young-adulthood crisis. The question assumes, of course, that films like this keep getting produced, which I’m not entirely sure is likely. Is it just my own myopic point of view that makes it seem like the subgenre of “angst-ridden twenty- and early thirtysomethings trying to figure out what they want from life” was born sometime in the early 90s — as Xers started making films? And will the subgenre die out as we all get older and settle down, one way or another?

Right now, though, there’s an awful lot I can identify with in the British film The Low Down. Screenwriter/director Jamie Thraves has made a splash with short films, music videos, and commercials, but his first feature is exactly the opposite of what you’d expect from someone with those credentials: The Low Down is a contemplatively paced film, one that seems to replicate the half-terrified immobility of realizing you’re at a crossroads in life and not knowing which road to take… and maybe even not wanting to make the choice at all.
Frank (Aidan Gillen), works with buddies Mike (Dean Lennox Kelly) and John (Tobias Menzies), making props for television shows, but the sculptures on display in his bedroom attest to more artistic leanings he doesn’t indulge near enough. He’s thinking about moving out of that flat, which he shares with Terry (Rupert Procter), maybe finding a place of his own, which is how he met Ruby (Kate Ashfield) — she’s the estate agent showing him flats, but they instantly took a liking to each other and became fast friends, and later lovers.

At first glance, Frank seems to exist in the happy medium between the extremes of his friends: Hard-working Mike owns the prop company and is happily ensconced in a long-term relationship. The unattached John can barely muster the enthusiasm to get out of bed to get to work, and his attitude to work is as cavalier as his attitude to money (he drops £100 on a pair of sneakers). Terry drifts in a romantic limbo of his own making, unable to get over a relationship gone bad and holding unreasonable expectations for love with the girl he hopes will become his new flatmate when Frank moves out.

A happy medium… if only Frank were happy. But Frank is unable to get 100 percent behind anything he wants to do, or thinks he supposed to want to do, like find an apartment of his own or commit to a relationship with Ruby. As Frank walks his own ambivalent path toward emotional adulthood, Thraves brings the ring of truth to his journey. This little slice of GenX life chimes with naturalistic dialogue — like the silly private thoughts you share with someone you’re getting to know — and illuminates situations all of us in Frank’s shoes will recognize, being torn between conflicting friendships.

Like its thematic cousins — everything from Chasing Amy to Jerry Maguire to Someone Like YouThe Low Down is treading ground already well explored. But that we keep coming back to it — and I, at least, keep finding it so compelling — must mean we haven’t discovered everything there is to discover here. Or maybe only I haven’t.

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