For better or worse, we all know a Joe (Stathers). He’s that friend that before you introduce him to new people, you find yourself apologising for everything that he will say and do that evening. The friend who is handsome and charming, great fun to be around except sometimes he goes that bit too far. He’s essentially a manic pixie dream boy, a confident bad boy free spirit who has a line for every situation and conversation – seemingly so well rehearsed that you know instinctively that there’s something not quite right about him. And yet, he’s also the life and soul of the party so things can’t be that bad for him can they..? That’s the focus of Hi-Lo Joe – the idea that behind a layer of front a person can be truly struggling with their mental health. This is a romance drama with a psychological edge.
Elly (Lizzie Phillips) is the woman in Joe’s life. From the opening sequence at a party Elly gets invited to – which is, unbeknownst to her being held by her ex Joe – there’s obvious chemistry between Joe and Elly. A natural back and forth, a crackle and spark between them. ‘When in Rome…’ ‘We’re in Peckham.’ After being allocated five minutes together by Elly’s over-protective best friend the pair kick it off again, in the film’s finest and most memorable moment. In a one take tracking shot that weaves in and out of the party, we’re thrown into the party and into the reconciling couple’s lives.
Joe is first and foremost the focus of the film and, in truth, the focus of his own life. Whilst Elly may be his reason for being he’s unable to the be partner she needs. He’s great for the fun stuff, the accents, the in-jokes, the sweet romantic gestures, the teasing, the banter – he’s not so good for the other stuff. Thirty-something Joe is in many ways as emotionally mature as the children he entertains for his part time job. But it’s obvious to Elly, and to us, that it’s not all his fault.
There’s lots of good stuff here, but lots of it could have been explored that bit further. Part of that problem is the fact that Joe is the character we’re expected to life because we’re told to (He’s Joe!), not because we’re given actual reasons to like him. For the line ‘Retina Raping’, which he spits out in a fit of jealousy over Elly’s friend Tony (a brief role from future man of the moment Bateman), alone he’s a complicated character. Here ‘complicated’ is euphemistic for bit of a twit. Elly doesn’t get enough to do, aside from attempting to rescue Joe from himself. Phillips is a charismatic presence that lights up the frame, but she’s not really given enough to do here. In contrast the equally charismatic Stathers is almost given too much to do, his character is overloaded in more ways that one.
The world they reside in has that over-stylised look of shabby chic hipster-dom that never looks as good in reality and is shown within just a few too many montages. The home they reside in, an abandoned pub, is as quirky as Joe is – the kind of quirky that doesn’t really exist in real life. The same applies for some of the dialogue, with Joe just that bit too quick to have a funny or witty answer to everything.
That being said, Hi-Lo Joe should be commended for its ambition and for showcasing the truly important issue of mental health. We live in a time when the biggest cause of death of young men is suicide. Joe goes to show how important it is to recognise that even when someone is smiling and laughing, and seems devoted to making others smile and laugh, they could just as easily be struggling on the inside.
- Dir: James Kermack
- Scr: James Kermack
- Starring: Matthew Stathers, Lizzie Philips, Tom Bateman, Gethin Anthony, Joe Dixon, Penny Judd, Katie Sheridan, Helen Kennedy.
- Prd: William Hunter Howell, Julien Loeffler, Mark Nutkins, Fabrice Smadja, Keerthi Suresh.
- DOP: Mark Nutkins
- Music: Benjamin Shielden
- Country: UK
- Year: 2017
- Run time: 93 minutes
Hi-Lo Joe is in cinemas on November 24th.