From the Video Shop - Wah-Wah

Neil Turner

2005 - United Kingdom - 120 minutes

Writer and Director - Richard E. Grant

Internet Movie Database User Rating - 7.1/10 - Link to IMDB

Roger Ebert's Rating - 3 of 4 Stars - Link to Ebert's Review

My Rating - 4 of 5 Stars

This film is a highly entertaining view of a dysfunctional family from the viewpoint of the teenaged son. It is said to be an autobiographical memory of the writer and director, Richard E. Grant. I didn't recognize the name, but once I started to read a bit about the film, I found that Grant is a fairly well-known character actor. The part most readily recognized by myself was that of the tall, thin, disapproving butler in Gosford Park. You might be interested in his biographical page at the IMDB. (Link)

The story takes place late 1960's Swaziland and climaxes with the British withdrawal from that colony. Ralph is the only child of Lauren and Harry Compton, and theirs is not a happy marriage. As a matter of fact, the film begins with a scene in which an eleven year old Ralph is supposedly asleep in the backseat of a car in which his mother and a neighbor are having sex in the front seat. She soon leaves her family and runs off with the neighbor. Ralph's father consoles himself with alcohol - it seems that practically every English adult in the colony has a drinking problem. Ralph constantly battles with his father and is soon shipped off to boarding school. The story shifts two years and teenaged Ralph who has just experienced his growth spurt returns home on vacation to find that his father has married an American air hostess. Ralph, at first, rejects Ruby but then begins to admire the out-spoken Yank. The title of the film comes from Ruby as she describes the supercilious talk of the British as, "Wah-wah-wah-wah-wah."

Grant has accumulated a superior group of veteran actors to portray the major characters in the piece. Gabriel Byrne plays an alcoholic father to perfection being both a hurtful drunk and a loving father. Byrne has the talent to realistically inhabit these two opposite personalities. Miranda Richardson is the perfect distant mother. Julie Walters plays the wife of the man with whom Ralph's mother has the affair. Walters adds a welcome spot of humor as a woman cheated upon but able to muddle through with generous helpings of whisky. Ruby is played by Emily Watson whose pixyish look and behavior fits the Yank like a glove.

Ralph is played by two talented young actors. Zachary Fox is Ralph at age eleven - an intelligent boy beginning to discover that his parents - especially his father - have feet of clay. Ralph at age thirteen is played by Nicholas Hoult. He has an extraordinarily unusual look about him and is in that awkward stage of physical development enabling him to make the role his own. The trivia on IMDB is that he was originally set to play Ralph at both ages, but his growth spurt caused him to be too large for the younger part. That growth spurt gives his a great look for this movie.

Even though we get an insightful look at the British colonists and their attitude toward themselves and the native Africans, this is not a social or political drama. It is and excellent family drama. The times and setting are simply icing on the cake.

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Harvard Square Commentary, November 27, 2006