Sunday, March 20, 2011

Film Review with Robert Mann - Chalet Girl

Chalet Girl *****

The romantic comedy is a genre that has been struggling as of late, largely due to the constant output of mediocre product by the Hollywood filmmaking machine, but where Hollywood has often failed in delivering a truly charming and heart-warming romcom, Britain has quite often succeeded. Last year’s American movie Valentine’s Day didn’t work nearly as well as it should have done yet 2003 British film Love Actually, which followed a similar formula of multiple stories intersecting with one another, proved to be one of the most beloved and charming romantic comedies ever made;

Brit flick Wild Target succeeded in delivering an action comedy style film with a romantic twist while Hollywood efforts The Bounty Hunter and Killers completely missed their targets; and while many American comedies that feature lesbian characters represent them as some sort of vulgar joke, British romance Imagine Me and You simply delivered a sweet and charming romance that just happened to feature lesbian characters as its romantic leads. We Brits truly do know how to produce a genuinely sweet and charming romantic comedy and, unlike Hollywood, we don’t seem to forget what such films are really so supposed to be about – romance and sincere humour not sexual suggestion or lame gags. And now another British romantic comedy is hoping to join the ranks alongside those aforementioned films as well as other great Brit romcoms such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill. That film is Chalet Girl, Britain’s first snowboard romantic comedy – yes, you read that right, this isn’t just a romantic comedy but one with a snowboarding twist. 


Rising stars Felicity Jones, who broke out with her role in last year’s Cemetery Junction, and Ed Westwick, who is probably best known for playing Chuck in TV’s Gossip Girl, take the two leading roles and are joined in the supporting cast by a number of recognisable British and American actors and actresses including Bill Nighy, Bill Bailey, Tamsin Egerton, Sophia Bush and Brooke Shields. Despite the ensemble cast and, unlike some of the great British romantic comedies I mentioned, though, the film doesn’t have the most immediately promising of individuals behind the camera. 


Director Phil Traill’s recent screen track record is considerably less than encouraging, his 2010 Sandra Bullock/ Bradley Cooper comedy All About Steve only just narrowly avoiding making my bottom ten films for last year, although it is debatable whether the entire blame for that film can be placed at his feet or whether it was in fact the writer of that film who was responsible for how poor it was and Trail himself has received considerable acclaim for the four debut short films that he both wrote and directed – Hiccup, Flipped, Post and Dangle – and which not only won him awards but led to him appearing on the cover of Screen International as one of the “most exciting new talents emerging across the UK film industry”. 


So, the director, who was born in and currently lives in America but was brought up in London and has worked there as a TV producer and director for many of Britain’s leading production companies including the BBC, does show promise as a director in spite of his Hollywood misstep from last year. Writer Tom Williams, meanwhile, has been writing full time since 2001 and has many projects optioned and in development but his only writing credits to date are three short films, Chalet Girl being his first feature length screenplay to get made into a film. Fortunately for both him and director Phil Traill than that Chalet Girl happens to be one of the best romantic comedies release in quite some time.

Kim (Felicity Jones) is a young girl whose dreams of becoming a champion skateboarder are thwarted when he mother is killed in a car accident. Continually traumatised by the events that took her mother’s life, she lives an aimless and depressing existence, working a job at a fast food restaurant which isn’t earning her enough to make ends meet and looking after her even more depressed father Bill (Bill Bailey) who would be completely lost without her. With money troubles coming down on them both, however, she accepts a well-paid job working as a chalet girl at a ski resort in the Austrian Alps. Heading out on her own and leaving her father alone for the first time since her mother’s death, Kim immediately feels out of place among her wealthy employers – banker Richard (Bill Nighy), his stuck-up wife Caroline (Brooke Shields), their son Jonny (Ed Westwick), his girlfriend Chloe (Sophia Bush) and her brother Nigel (Nicholas Braun) – and even her colleague Georgie (Tamsin Egerton) is quick to point out that she doesn’t belong there – she can’t even ski. Nonetheless, there is a spark between her and Jonny, a spark which soon develops into romance, much to the chagrin of Jonny’s girlfriend and even more so his mother, and Kim also discovers a new joy in her life – snowboarding. 



With the help of the kindly Mikki (Ken Duken), she learns to apply everything she knows about skateboarding to the snowboard and soon is on her way to stardom as she prepares for a snowboarding competition that could change her life forever. But, with her mother’s death still weighing her down, can she really succeed and, just as importantly, can her relationship with Jonny really last?

After the many mediocre and downright awful romantic comedies that have come from across the pond in the last year, Chalet Girl is a real breath of fresh air. There are no pretensions that it is anything more than what it is – a light-hearted romantic comedy – and the film in fact embraces its light-hearted roots, at its core being a classic tale of an everyday girl and a wealthy guy falling in love and a very charming one at that. That said, though, this isn’t merely a film about a romance between a girl and a guy but also one between a girl and a sport that she loves and which gives her life meaning and purpose – the snowboarding aspect actually coming before the love story aspect, in fact, but the film being no less a romantic comedy as a result. 



On both counts the film is a resounding success, the romance being truly delightful, extremely warming to the heart and actually quite believable – there is real chemistry between Felicity Jones and Ed Westwick but never once do we believe that Jonny and Chloe actually belong together – and the snowboarding aspect being inspirational and moving, us being encouraged to root for and empathise with Kim throughout the entire duration of the film. The storyline is extremely predictable and a lot of what happens is very obvious but everything is so charming that you really shouldn’t care – and then there’s the humour. 


This is one hilarious movie. Delivering humour of a quintessentially British variety, this film manages to be funny in ways that have completely eluded most Hollywood romcoms as of late, the dialogue frequently being very humorous and often witty – “Is this man the head of some evil criminal empire?” Kim says, to which Georgie replies “He’s a banker” prompting Kim to comeback with “So, that’s a yes then?” – and the physical gags delivering many laugh out loud moments – also be sure to stay through the credits for some very funny outtakes. There are no lame gags to be found here and most of the cast members are on top comic form, Felicity Jones and Tamsin Egerton making a very funny and flirty double act, Bill Nighy – playing a former airline flight attendant, an important fact for one gag – getting one of the funniest moments in the film and Bill Bailey also getting plenty of moments to shine. In fact, the performances in general are hard to fault. 


Felicity Jones is truly delightful and totally lovable as Kim, so much so that it is hard not to fall for her and want the film to have a happy ending – which obviously it does. Portraying her character as a very honest, sincere and fun loving person who is also traumatised by the circumstances surrounding her mother’s death, Jones also proves very able in the more emotional scenes, making us truly believe in her character’s sadness and empathise with her situation. She is completely flawless in the part and her chemistry with co-star Ed Westwick is the exact opposite of icy – it’s red hot unlike the chemistry Westwick has with Sophia Bush which really is icy – Westwick himself being a perfectly charming and charismatic romantic interest. Tamsin Egerton is also excellent, absolutely nailing her character’s innate flirtiness and the way she says “Poke me” in response to another character saying “I’ll put the photos on Facebook” is extremely seductive. 


Simply put, she is the perfect casting choice for the role of Georgie. Other cast members don’t get as much of a look in – this is Felicity Jones’ show after all – but Bill Nighy and Brooke Shields still make for convincing rich folk, the latter being appropriately frosty. Also of note are cameo appearances by T4 presenters Miquita Oliver and Rick Edwards, British actress Jessica Stevenson and also real life snowboarder Tara Dakides. This is also a film that looks very good. The Austrian Alps make for a very beautiful backdrop to the film’s events and the snow covered settings add an almost magical quality to proceedings while beautiful cinematography by Ed Wild captures the landscapes in all their snow covered splendour. The snowboarding sequences also look great, all the moves being performed perfectly – at least after Kim has got past her early mishaps, which provide some of the film’s funny moments – and also very well shot, the angles being very well chosen to show the snowboarding in action. 


The choice of a British pop soundtrack is also a great aspect, further cementing that this is a British movie. So, while Chalet Girl might not sound like a must see on movie or anything and certainly isn’t going to be winning any awards or that many great reviews from more hardened film critics, it is hard to deny that it is a delightful feel good movie that will leave you feeling warm on the inside. Director Phil Traill truly has redeemed himself after the debacle of All About Steve and, while this is not a film that is very original, it is so sweet and heart-warming that you would have to have a very hard heart not to be won over by it. Hollywood take notes – this is how a romantic comedy should be done.

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Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)

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