Happy New Year, Colin Burstead.: LFF Film Review

I only became a fan of Ben Wheatley with LFF 2016 movie Free Fire, an ensemble comedy with lots going on in a single location – so I had high hopes for Happy New Year, Colin Burstead., which had a similar set-up, but a very different story.

Neil Maskell is Colin, who has rented a stately home in Dorset and invited all his family there for a big new year bash. It sounds like a good idea, until you realise how dysfunctional his family is. Throw in a couple of unexpected guests, including estranged brother David (Sam Riley) who no one has seen for five years, an injured mum (Doon Mackichan), a cross dressing uncle (Charles Dance) and a drunk dad with money problems (Bill Paterson) and you have yourself a recipe for disaster.

Free Fire showed that Wheatley knows how to throw a ton of characters into one location and slowly reveal their relationships and resentments, letting the tension and comedy build and build until a big showdown. While Colin Burstead is on a much smaller, domestic scale and a family drama rather than a crime one, it works in a similar fashion – the characters and their relationships are all cleverly weaved together to create a funny comedy-drama. The tensions and problems never let up for a second after they all arrive at the home, with new revelations being made and arguments going down all the time.

Admittedly though, there is so much going on that I sometimes got a bit lost and I couldn’t figure out how a couple of the characters fitted into the family tree. It also sags in the middle, once all the threads are introduced but before the conclusion, like Wheatley didn’t really know how to bring it all together. The film didn’t reach the explosive conclusion I was hoping for either. It is very dramatic, but I was expecting something more exciting or shocking.

The ensemble is strong, no weak links around. I didn’t really sympathise with anyone as they were all really annoying, particularly the mum and dad. David was a bastard who seemed to relish being one, Hayley Squires, his sister, had a chip on her shoulder, and Colin was too stressed and mean. Joe Cole was fun, but his character was in the periphery, not really have anything to do. Sham (Asim Chaudhry) was probably the most entertaining.

The film isn’t as strong as Free Fire but there is still a lot to enjoy, although dramas about families hating each other and having slanging matches aren’t my thing. At least they make me appreciate how drama-free my own family is.

Seen as part of the 2018 BFI London Film Festival. Cinema release date not set 

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