“Somers Town,” winner of the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival Best Actor award, is an urban comedy/drama about the friendship between two teenage boys in the titular area, a rundown section of London. Tomo (Thomas Turgoose) is a runaway who comes to Somers Town where he befriends Marek (Piotr Jagiello), the son of a Polish construction worker. Soon Marek is sneaking Tomo into his room, to sleep under his bed, in the small apartment Marek shares with his father. The boys spend their days “hanging out,” trying to scratch together money, clothes and pursue a local French waitress a good six to ten years their senior.
Tomo’s and Marek’s friendship is a funny, real, “opposites attract” relationship. Whereas Marek is a quiet observer and photographer, who speaks in the overly enunciated English of someone still learning the language, Tomo is expressive, volatile and more action oriented. Turgoose has a face that simultaneously presents a tough exterior while also revealing a deep vulnerability. He displays a hilarious, mischievous quality as he weathers one indignity after another. The boys’ friendship and infatuation with Maria, an attractive coffee shop waitress, and their pursuit of her, is heartfelt, sweet and, on another level, shows their need for a mother. Whereas Tomo is a runaway and Marek’s father works all day and goes out drinking all night, the boys’ innate desire for family, while not expressed verbally, provides an interesting subtext.
The supporting cast is very good. Every part seems to have been plucked from real urban, working class life. One supporting actor who nearly steals the show is Perry Benson as Marek’s neighbor Graham. Graham is a pudgy, eccentric, middle-aged, “wheeler-dealer,” who, with his outdated, omnipresent sunglasses and thrift store attire, traffics in mannequins, T-shirts, lounge chair rentals and, one gets the impression, probably a lot of low level, poorly paying schemes. Benson’s comical indignation and irritation in a scene where the boys wake him from a sound sleep to sell him a stolen bag full of laundry is by itself worth the price of admission.
“Somers Town” began as a short film script but a longer story evolved out of improvisations with director Shane Meadows that occurred during an intensive rehearsal period prior to production. The movie is a scant 70 minutes but feels like it is exactly the correct length due in no small part to the way in which it has been intelligently edited by Richard Grahm. Specifically, Grahm and Meadows know when not to cut, often letting scenes play out in master shots. We are allowed to see the characters interact and relate to each other in a way that is natural. At the same time the filmmakers know when to judiciously cut in for tighter shots, or to other angles, for certain important moments. Meadows’ decision to shoot on 16mm black and white film gives the film an immediacy that suits the story’s atmosphere of urban decay and alienation. “Somers Town” is a small, charming, humorous movie featuring a cast and atmosphere that are both quite genuine.
“Somers Town,” director Shane Meadows, 2009,
Film Movement, 70 minutes