Okay, okay, I have to start this review with a bit of context. I first heard about The Limelight yesterday when I received an email from writer and co-director (and star) Glen Maney wondering if I'd be interested in reviewing the film. I am always very appreciative of such offers and like to do my best when it comes to smaller films that need to build up exposure and a portfolio of reviews so I created a window in my schedule yesterday and watched the film as soon as I could. When the movie ended I realised that I hadn't liked it, bar one or two scenes (that I will mention later). What to do next? Glen had been very pleasant and informative and gracious in his email so I already liked him and didn't want to hurt his feelings but I also didn't want to be dishonest in my review. I considered just not reviewing the movie and telling Glen that I was too busy but then I thought that if I became known as someone who only ever gave good reviews to things I'd been asked to watch then that was just about as bad as being dishonest in my opinions. I considered emailing Glen initially, of course, and discussing my problems with the movie but then I worried that such a conversation may lead to compromise and dilute what I had to say. So, in the end, I decided just to do what I usually do - write the review. When it's done I will email the link to Glen and I hope that he takes my one opinion as just that, my one opinion. The fact that he got the movie made is still something he can be happy with.
So let's get to the review. Glen Maney plays Gary Shand, a struggling stand-up comedian who isn't really having a good time of it. His ex-wife (Andrea Williamson) is considering taking the teenage kids with her when she moves to Wales with her new fella, his manager (Ricky Grover) gives him no money but plenty of abuse and the other comic that he often seems to be sharing gig time with (Sean Bollinger, played by Patrick Monahan) seems to be using all of his material. Nope, things aren't going well for Gary at all. And they're about to get worse as he heads toward rock bottom while striving to reach the very top.
The life of a comedian has been used as the basis for black comedies for years now. I'm sure there were plenty that came before Punchline (including the Charlie Chaplin film called . . . . . Limelight) but that's just one example. My personal favourite is the sublime Funny Bones, while Crying With Laughter is also a very good effort.
In this movie, sadly, the comedy isn't all that effective and neither is the drama, mainly because it's too over the top and you never really feel bad for Gary. There ARE moments when it's sad to see the situation he is in but you either can't help thinking that he put himself there (with the way he tolerates his bullying manager and the way he keeps spending money he doesn't really have on alcohol) or that everything is handled a bit too lightly. Anyone who has been in dire financial trouble, or even temporarily homeless, will agree.
Maney isn't great in the lead role, sorry Glen, so he's obviously more comfortable on stage as a comedian than he is as an actor. Ricky Grover has more acting experience and shows it although he's stuck with a character so irritating and nasty that he can't really show any range or hint at motivation. Patrick Monahan gets a big shrug from me, I think he won some talent show here in the UK and people who know my opinion of the TV talent shows can extrapolate my opinion of Patrick. Andrea Williamson is sort of okay as the ex-wife while Sonya Roseman falters, but looks lovely doing so, as Sara Meo, a potential love interest. Thankfully, along come the barmen to brighten up the movie. Mark Monero, who Eastenders fans will recognise, is decent as a caring barman who tries to offer Gary some advice but Craig Campbell is a hilarious scene-stealer as Chuck, the new barman who takes over and gives Gary some very different advice. He's the kind of guy who doesn't tolerate people playing dominoes aggressively. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly.
But what of the technical side? Well, with Glen co-directing with John Robson and this being the kind of movie that repeats a lot of names in the end credits it would be easy to just criticise the movie and not take into account the low budget. However, even with a low budget I would have liked some of the following aspects to be better - the audio mix (it may be tricky to do on a low budget but a well crafted audio track is one of the best ways to elevate a small movie) and the camerawork. Does that seem like everything? Well, it certainly feels like it at times. The lighting levels in between shots could have been matched, sets and locations could have been opened up slightly and given some better design (many scenes set in a single room feel isolated from the world, despite audio cues, etc) and almost every shot could have been tweaked in some way.
There's a part of me that thinks that Glen just wanted to get the movie made any way he could and that might have been the case. If you only have so much time and money then you settle for what you have. I just think that a bit more investment could have paid dividends. The man knows the world of comedians better than I ever will so perhaps more of this is absolutely on the nose than I suspect but there's a fine line between showing something real and insightful to audiences and showing something cinematically real and insightful. The main thing that he does get right is the overall character arc as things actually do end up building to a decent punchline, ironically enough. It's just a shame there wasn't some judicious editing and ruthless rewriting going on to ensure a better movie surrounding that character arc.
I hope that this review isn't taken as mean-spirited or unconstructive and I wish Glen all the best for the future. Others appear to have enjoyed the film but scouring a few of the IMDb reviews does raise some suspicions. If you want to make your own mind up, however, then the link below will give you a few options.