Shiny Shelf

Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel

By Stephen Lavington on 11 August 2010

Hey kids, you liked ‘Shaun of the Dead’ right? A bunch of British comic actors play goofy slackers adrift in the middle of a zombie outbreak and resident in the suburbs and the local pub in a narrative awash with cultural references and geeky self-awareness – great stuff! The makers of ‘FAQ…’ certainly thought so when they adapted this model to sci-fi movies (in particular time-travel). It’s just a shame they didn’t choose to do so with half the wit or talent.

It’s difficult to pin down the precise problem with ‘FAQ…’, largely because there are quite a few contenders, but the task is made even trickier by a degree of downtrodden charm. This is a puppy of a movie – it feels downright mean to be nasty to it. That said it’s also the sort of film that chews your slippers and craps on your rug.

For a start there’s the cardinal sin: it’s not very funny. The whole movie pivots on the central relationship between three losersĀ  getting caught up in a roller-coaster ride through time (there’s a “time leak” in the gent’s toilets of their local boozer) and bantering in the generally accepted post – ‘Spaced’ way about films, drink and other ephemera. The three core performances (Chris O’Dowd, Marc Wootton and Dean Lennox Kelly) are genially engaging in this fairly undemanding capacity (and it is their solid performances that make criticism seem harsh) but they’re simply not given the ammunition.

By contrast ‘Shaun…’ has a script that is both funny and tight. The jokes roll off the screen relentlessly with an effortlessness that belies the obvious painstaking craft going into their creation. ‘FAQ…’ stumbles from bland set-piece to set-piece. The few good gags here (and there are some) simply show up the lack of quality elsewhere. There simply aren’t enough laughs to carry the film through its meagre 83 minutes.

‘Shaun…’ has something else that ‘FAQ…’ does not – a point. More than just a set of gags it’s a coming of age story, speaking of the need to set aside youthful irresponsibility and leave the parental nest to become a truly independent adult. Zombies are an important means to this end, but are not the end in themselves. ‘FAQ..’. makes weak moves in this direction. Chris O’Dowd’s Ray is a similarly directionless slacker who gets the girl and finds a greater purpose but it is in pale and watery imitation of some of ‘Shaun…’, a film with some genuinely powerful emotional moments (think of the scenes with his mother in the final reel).

In any event, ‘FAQ…’s primary interest seems to be less in making a big point than in theĀ  “wibbly, wobbly, timey, wimey” convoluted nature of time-travel narratives . We see the same events from different angles at subsequent points in the narrative with the same characters cropping up at different points in their time-lines. When done right (‘Back to the Future’ or the recent run of ‘Doctor Who’) this is engaging and enjoyable and often very clever. However, once again ‘FAQ…’ fails to go the distance. It totally loses steam in its third act, and chucks any sense of internal logic out the window. It’s movie-making 101 – people can suspend disbelief to an extraordinary degree as long as a narrative plays by it’s own rules. Given the whole point of this film is to mess around with the ideas of time-travel, it’s a pretty fundamental flaw that it fails to do this.

‘FAQ…’ lacks jokes, doesn’t make a point and fails even to abide by it’s own internal logic. It shows how appealing the ‘Shaun…’ model is to British comedy filmmakers but also how difficult a model it is to replicate.

Line Break

By Stephen Lavington

Comments are closed.