Somers Town Review

AKA: N/A
Genre: Coming of Age/Slice of Life/Drama
Year Released: 2008

Distributor: Film Movement

Origin: England

Running Time: 71 minutes

Rating/Recommended Audience: 13+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: He Died With A Felafel In His Hand, 500 Days of Summer, LOL, High Fidelity, The Garden of Words, Once Upon A Time In The Midlands
Notes: N/A

Fun Facts:


-The name of the film (and location therein) refers to a section of Northwestern London.

-Director Allusion: When Tomo is explaining how dating in the UK works to his Polish friend Marek, he mentions that “This is England”. That would also be the name of director Shane Meadow’s most famous film and Thomas Turgoose (Tomo’s actor) is also in that film as the character Shaun Fields.

-Somers Town was scored by the late Gavin Clark who’s the lead singer of British folk band Clayhill.


I’ve been viewing some films from all around the world, but I haven’t touched upon the UK all that much. Sure, my previous reviews involving Theeb and Strings had some production from British producers and whatnot despite being mostly rooted in the Middle East and Scandinavia respectively, but I thought I would try film purely produced and based in good old Blighty.

I knew next to nothing to this film besides the fact that Shane Meadows of This Is England fame directed it. Somers Town did surprise me a bit with the cinematography being predominantly in black and white despite the modern setting (well, modern for 2008, that is). The only other movie I can think of that was filmed in black and white that came out in the 00s would be Good Night and Good Luck, so that threw me for a loop which I slowly became accustomed to.

Somers Town deals with a story involving two teenage boys. There’s Tomo who took the train from his hometown of Nottingham to the Somers Town area in London. The other boy is Marek. He’s a Polish immigrant who lives with his single dad in a low-income apartment who spends all day working construction and all night drinking booze. Tomo gets mugged by three boys and has no money to go back to the Midlands, so he convinces Marek to crash at his apartment after a chance encounter at a local diner involving pictures with their love interest, a French waitress named Maria.

The interactions between Tomo and Marek were interesting. The scene where they first meet each other was funny with Tomo taking the pictures of Maria with Marek freaking out and they run around London. The awkwardness, friendship, and the tomfoolery is something I can actually believe. Despite the accents of the characters, it’s something can also happen in America if you changed the setting. Good on the filmmakers and writers for figuring out this friendship.

Some of the other characters are worth noting as well. Jane is the only other character from Nottingham who appears on the train bound for London. Despite her brief appearances, she is a kind woman and actually takes pity for Tomo’s situation after he gets mugged and beaten up by some local hooligans. There’s Graham, who’s a con artist that resides in Marek’s hometown. He makes Marek and Tomo do scams to get paid and he’s quite funny. Graham even gives Marek a free Arsenal soccer jersey because he feared for the Polish kid’s life with him walking around in a Manchester United jersey. Even as an American that barely knows anything about soccer, I got a lot of laughs and knew about some of the rivalries with those respective teams. Then, there’s the love interest Maria. She works at the local diner and takes an interest in both Tomo and Marek. The scene with the three of them wheeling Maria around in an abandoned wheelchair is quite iconic. However, I did have issues with the relationship between the three of them which I’ll get to right away.

While I though it was a refreshing twist in the tired love triangle cliche, there’s one major factor in this relationship that bugged me. Tomo and Marek are young teens (context: Thomas Turgoose was sixteen years old when this film was released) and Maria clearly looks older than them (she had to be in her twenties from what I can guess). Yes, this is the same gripe I had which ruined so much of The Garden of Words for me after lots of thinking during and after that film. I do think it was a good twist with how the two main leads don’t get angsty at each other for a good portion of the film, but the noticeable age difference made Somers Town creepy for me. There’s Maria’s view of the two which is questionable. She kisses both of them while claiming that she loves both of them equally. I half-expected her to sing “So In Love With Two” by Mikaila after kissing them. If you don’t remember or know that song, then consider yourself lucky. I just found the romantic aspect problematic despite breaking some love triangle cliches.

While there were some noteworthy characters, there were some obvious plot holes. We never get to know the full reason why Tomo left Nottingham to visit London. The reasoning is vague at best and it relies more on telling us about Tomo’s family life (or lack thereof) than showing us what’s going on. The gang that mugs Tomo disappears and become a dropped plot line even though the aftereffects are present with the track jacket and jeans being the only clothes that he owns. They do go into more detail with Marek’s life where I felt that was written better with Marek’s father Marius working long hours only to drink constantly with his other Polish immigrant friends/co-workers. Even the conversation the two of them have in the third act gave me more insight about the home life even though everything wasn’t explicitly stated. Okay, the kids shouldn’t have been off the hook after what they did in the apartment, but Marius was able to see where they were coming from after the fact despite being in a drunken rage the night before. I do think the ending while brilliantly shot with the new filming style, was more of a glorified montage and I found it very unlikely that all the characters would be able to meet so easily given the place they were in and with a certain character’s situation.

Another major gripe that I have, and this may be quite personal, is that Somers Town feels like such a hipster film to me. Well, there’s certainly the indie cred with the production and distribution, but I thought parts of it were pandering to the same people who bash others for liking mainstream music (despite listening to bands who are on labels distributed by major companies, but who am I to judge?). The most obvious aspect was the music. Rest in peace to Gavin Clark and he does have a good voice, but I wasn’t a fan of the scoring. It reminds me of a lot of modern pseudo-indie folk pop music in the vein of Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, Passenger, or Fleet Foxes. If you like any of those bands, then you’ll LOVE the soundtrack to Somers Town, but I prefer my acoustic music to have different aesthetics. Even the coming of age drama with the main characters gets too Juno-esque for me mixed with some mumblecore movies that have permeated film festivals in the mid-to-late 00s albeit with the black and white cinematography. That was a turn off for me with the slight pretension in it’s presentation.

Somers Town was nothing too noteworthy for me. There were some memorable characters, but they are anchored by a questionable plot and noticeable plot holes. Maybe if this film were ten or twenty minutes longer, they could have achieved more with the characterization and plotting. The music did fit the mood, but it came across as hipster-pandering for those people who hit the indie film circuits. There were some genuinely funny and realistic moments, but I thought Somers Town could have used some more work.


Adjustable Point System:

Add 2 points if you love modern folk music
Add 1 point if you like British drama films

Pros:
-Good filming style with the B&W aesthetics and the 8mm ending scenes
-Some legit funny moments
-Destroys some love triangle cliches

Cons:

-Massive plot holes (particularly with Tomo’s character)
-Unfortunate implications with the Tomo/Marek/Maria relationship angle
-Ending was a cop-out and unrealistic

Final Score: 4/10 points

Content Warnings: This would get a HARD PG-13 if this got a real rating. There’s some language here and there (in both English and Polish). Graham is quite a sleazy character and at one point in the movie, he walks out in a robe and thong before grabbing some British pound bills from said thong to give to Tomo and Marek. That’s saying nothing about that getup being very unflattering given his physique. Both Tomo and Marek get VERY drunk in the final act and revel about in the apartment doing stupid stuff. There’s also the infamous bathroom scene with Tomo holding pictures of Maria and saying “I’m lonely” while being caught by Marek. The biggest issue would be Maria fawning over two teenage boys which would be even more problematic if the genders were reversed.

-Curtis Monroe

Photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.

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