Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

dir-scr Michael Winterbottom
prd Damian Jones
with Steve Coogan, David Mitchell, Isla Fisher, Shirley Henderson, Sophie Cookson, Asa Butterfield, Dinita Gohil, Shanina Shaik, Sarah Solemani, Ollie Locke, Jamie Blackley, Stephen Fry
release UK/US 21.Feb.20
19/UK Sony 1h40

mitchell henderson cookson
london film fest

fisher, coogan, butterfield
Steve Coogan and Michael Winterbottom team up for another comedy, although this one is a bit more deliberately pointed than their usual collaborations. Yes, there are still moments of inspired silliness dotted throughout the ambitiously fragmented narrative, and it's expertly played by a strong ensemble cast. Many actors bring their considerable improvisational skills to the screen, although with so many big issues as satirical targets, the film feels heavy-handed.
While planning a lavish Roman-themed 60th birthday on a Greek island, British retail tycoon Sir Rich McCreadie (Coogan) is also being interviewed by his biographer Nick (Mitchell). Rich's life has been full of glamour, as he bought one high street chain after another, then their steady bankruptcies both made him wealthy and landed him in a parliamentary investigation. As the party's coliseum set is constructed, Richard is determined to evict a camp of refugees from a nearby beach. While his ex-wife (Fisher), surly son (Butterfield) and reality-star daughter (Cookson) are up to their own antics.
As final preparations are made for the party, Nick interviews the family, sending the narrative rifling back through Rich's career. This involves flashbacks within flashbacks, complete with an extended look at his spoiled days running a gambling ring at his posh private school (as Blackley). Each family member takes his or her 1-percent privilege for granted, never even trying to understand why protesters and courts have been standing against them over the years. If they weren't all so ridiculously funny, they'd be unwatchable.

As the blustering billionaire the tabloids call "McGreedy", Coogan's timing is as flawless as his ludicrously pearly veneers. Flashbacks to his ruthless dealmaking are the funniest scenes in the film, as he shouts orders then criticises underlings, Trump-style, for doing exactly what he told them to do. The only other characters with texture are Nick, another perfectly self-deprecating turn from the engaging Mitchell, and Gohil's party planner Amanda, who has a personal connection with an inhumane Sri Lanka garment factory.

The film opens and closes with a quote from EM Forster's Howard's End: "Only connect." So it's clear that Winterbottom's idea is to link income inequality with sweatshop workers and desperate refugees. Indeed, an extended series of final statistical captions covers these topics. But these issues have already become lost in the background behind the enjoyable comical antics, as Winterbottom and his gifted cast have fun making the audience laugh. So it feels a bit of a cheat to be sent to school at the end.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality, violence 9.Oct.19 lff

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall