Office Christmas Party
Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…
"The Selfish Giant" is easy to admire but difficult to recommend, because its vision of friendship, poverty and desperation is so stark. Written and directed by Clio Barnard, this film about adolescent boys who gather scrap to help their families is based on a fable by Oscar Wilde. But where Wilde's story summons warmly cathartic tears, the tears this film earns are colder and grimmer. Its outcome feels both unfair and inevitable.
The film is set in West Yorkshire in Northern England, against a backdrop of cooling towers and buzzing transformers. There's no hint of a healthy economy. This slice of life seems populated mainly by scavengers and people who used to scavenge but gave up. Its heroes are the smallish, blond Arbor (Conner Chapman), who's hot-tempered and impulsive and seems to have a spectrum disorder, and the taller, kinder, dark-haired Swifty (Shaun Thomas), who often serves as Arbor's voice of reason. They're best friends, as close as brothers.
Arbor lives with his exhausted and short-fused single mom (Rebecca Manley) and his drug-addled, volatile older brother (Elliott Tittensor). Swifty's house is as cramped and rundown as Arbor's; it's packed with seven siblings, plus an angry drunk dad (Steve Evets) and a mom (Siobhan Finneran of "Downton Abbey") who has the haunted look of a prisoner who has accepted that she'll die behind bars. One of the first scenes set in Swifty's house ends with Swifty's dad dragging a fake-leather couch out of the living room and onto the lawn; he plans to sell it to pay the electric bill.
Arbor and Swifty want to improve their lot. They see a glimmer of hope in selling discarded appliances, cookware and wiring to scrapyards. They borrow a broken-down horse from a scrapyard owner to draw a cart around, but the scrapyard owner—the innocuously named Kitten (Sean Gilder)—charges them for the animal, and sometimes skims more at the end, because he can. The boys soon realize there's more money in copper wiring than in dumpster and curbside garbage. They start collecting wire that was never meant to be collected, growing more brazen with each outing, as if daring fate to crush them.