The Better Man (TBC)

The Better ManIn Bedford it’s a day just like any other: self-appointed lad Aaron (Cameron Stuart) is skiving his unpaid internship to notch up waitresses on his clicker and Josh (David Sykes) is ‘busy’ blogging from his mum’s house when Facebook informs them that their friend (Duncan Vicat-Brown) is engaged to be married. Convinced that he, as Paul’s oldest friend, is sure to be named Best Man for the wedding itself, Aaron is only too happy to drop everything and drive to Wales with Josh for the engagement party. Once there, however, they find Paul to have changed almost completely, having apparently been assimilated by the friends he now shares almost exclusively with fiance Kay-Tay (Sabrina Dickens). Needless to say, their old-school banter is anything but appreciated.

From Bustabowl Productions, The Better Man is a micro-budget comedy-drama directed by Josh Bennett and Matthew Tindall. Although currently without a distributor, the film has nevertheless played at Best For Film Presents… and Newport International Film Festival, where it won the Welsh Dragon Award. An exploration of friendship and the toll taken on childhood bonds by time and changing circumstances, the film deals with similar themes to Edgar Wright’s The World’s End and Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, only in a more realistic and immediately relatable fashion, without the distraction of an alien invasion or the similarly unfortunate presence of Greta Gerwig.

Fresh from a series of YouTube videos that showcase their writing abilities and core cast, the filmmakers here make the transition to near-feature length with surprising style and ability. In addition to demonstrating an inherent understanding of structure and cinematography, evidenced from the outset through a sequence of assured and attractive establishing shots, all involved display a confidence and competence that more often than not prevents The Better Man from feeling like an informal and largely amateur production. Although set predominantly indoors, there is an artfulness and ambition to the camera work that is really rather impressive. This, despite its Anglo-Welsh setting, is thankfully no Svengali.

The characters, written by Tindall, Tom McInnes and Richard Wallace (with help from Caroline O’Donoghue), are handled with similar thoughtfulness and verve. Stuart and Sykes have great chemistry as friends Aaron and Josh, the film — and script — really coming to life on the drive from Bedford to Wales. Much of the dialogue is stylised, but by focusing on trivia as opposed to endless pop culture references the banter is inclusive rather than alienating. Particularly enjoyable is a conversation about suitable engagement presents and the importance of original packaging. While both characters are nicely acted and unexpectedly well-developed, they are completely outdone by the supporting cast. One partygoer plays off the common misconception that Wales is just one elaborate Doctor Who set to awkwardly hilarious effect, while another turns a slightly clunky cupboard coupling into one of the film’s comedy highlights. It’s Natalie Martins who steals the movie, however, as the Americanism-hating love of Josh’s night.

There are issues, however, and at just 71 minutes The Better Man is undeniably slight. At times it feels more like a film of two halves than three acts, and although individual scenes may be structurally sound the overall picture is a little less well-defined. As much fun as Paul and Kay-Tay might be — and Vicat-Brown and Dickens do everything in their power to ensure they are just that — they are under-served by a plot that introduces them as strangers; not of the initially unrecognised, look-how-much-you’ve-changed variety, but of the sort that (aside from a quick glance at a Facebook page) we simply haven’t met yet. Admittedly, The World’s End’s solution — to have a flashback showing the infamous five as children — wasn’t exactly successful either, but The Better Man still needed to give a better sense of how their friendship functioned before Paul moved away. In many ways, the film feels like it’s missing a first act, and the audience’s stake in the relationship suffers as a result.

Means-driven brevity aside, however, The Better Man is a resounding success. A film with genuine heart (the final scene is a beaut), witty interplay (including a gag at the expense of identical twin sisters Mary and Shelly) and dick-jokes to die for, it examines the paradoxes and complexities of Generation Y and the so-called “second adolescence” in a way that is fresh and exciting. These are talents to watch out for, and — “Torchwood” — you won’t have to wait too long to experience them for yourself.

4-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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