The Jolly Boys' Last Stand Review
Made in 1999 The Jolly Boys’ Last Stand represents one of the UK’s earliest DV features. Though a contemporary of the Dogme scene’s first flourishes director Christopher Payne eschews the stylistic and narrative provocations of Von Trier and co. and instead goes for the more obvious option. As with another contemporary, The Blair Witch Project, it is the mock home movie which becomes the governing factor, though in this case the raison d’être is comedy not horror. The central conceit is that this “video” represents a present to Spider, the recently married ex-president of the Jolly Boys, essentially a group of drinking buddies with a penchant for Jackass-style pranks and all-round juvenilia.
Purportedly documenting the previous seven months of so through the eyes of best mate (and best man) Des, from the engagement announcement to the big day, The Jolly Boys’ Last Stand is therefore something of an inauspicious affair. Understandably, Payne has decided to retain all of Des’ amateur touches – in both shooting style and editing skills – and as such his film is one which relies heavily on its screenplay. The central aim of the piece appears to be satirical, targeting Spider as he attempts to settle down – or sell out as Des would see it. Thus yoga gets a quick ribbing as do golf, dinner parties and those ridiculous back-to-nature motivational courses run for disgruntled office workers. Obvious targets one and all, and to be frank Payne offers little that’s new. Moreover, his opening scenes comes across more as a collection of sketches than a genuine narrative, a fact not helped by the (admittedly inadvertent) casting of a pre-Ali G Sacha Baron Cohen.
And yet The Jolly Boys’ Last Stand is a film which visibly grows in confidence as it progresses. You get the sense that it was shot in sequence (or as close to this as was possible) given how, by the halfway point, everything begins to fall into place. The narrative starts to settle down into something perceptible, the actors look increasingly comfortable with their roles and as a result the material begins to work much better. One of the key factors here is the realism as the initial wobbliness of the performances disappears and the mock status of the piece begins to work. As such we’re finally able to get drawn in by the drama, no matter how scant it may ultimately be.
The other factor, and the most likely reason for Jolly Boys seeing its second DVD release in the UK, is the presence of a pre-Lord of the Rings, pre-King Kong Andy Serkis. Yet this shouldn’t be considered a mere novelty as it’s true that Serkis is the one person who holds the entire film together. Whereas other pre-fame roles, such as those in Mojo and Stella Does Tricks, gave him only minor and fairly standard nasty types to play with, here he’s allowed full control of the picture and is allowed to be likeable. Indeed, it’s not just promise that we find with his performance, but talent already present in abundance. It would be interesting to watch a Jolly Boys Last Stand with a different actor in the role, primarily because you suspect that it would be a much lesser film as a result. Certainly, we shouldn’t undo Payne’s efforts given that when he finds his stride there’s a definite promise to be detected, not to mention a certain sadness that, just like so many British debutant directors, he’s as yet been unable to build on it.
Spirit Level Film’s second major DVD release following their handling of Claude Lelouch’s cult-ish short C’était un rendezvous, The Jolly Boys’ Last Outing proves to be both a better and a worse prospect than its previous release by Cinema Club first issued in 2003. The major problem is that Spirit Level have decided to release it as an NTSC disc and are therefore giving us a PAL-NTSC complete with heavy ghosting, edge enhancement and saturated colours. Admittedly, the DV aesthetic makes this far more acceptable than would have been the case, say, on a 35mm feature, but it’s a disappointment nonetheless. The soundtrack fares better, here present in its original DD2.0 form, though bear in mind that it is supposed to be recreated that of a standard home video. Thus the dialogue isn’t always perfectly crisp and clear, but then we shouldn’t expect as much. Of course, this also makes it difficult to ascertain as to whether there are any flaws, but on the whole it feels as though this hasn’t been the case.
As for the extras, here we find a commentary in which Payne is joined by four of his principal cast members (Serkis plus Milo Twomey, Matt Wilkinson and Rebecca Craig) as well as a sampling of audition tapes. The latter is pretty much as you’d expect, though welcome nonetheless despite the wavering presentation quality, meaning that it’s the commentary which proves to be the main attraction. Despite the heavy presence of participants it’s mostly Serkis and Payne who do the talking, Serkis effectively serving as interviewer (because of his greater experience in the film industry?) to Payne’s interviewee. As such plenty of ground is covered, whilst there’s also a pleasing level of honesty that comes through. Payne, Serkis and the rest know that they didn’t make a masterpiece back in 1999, but there are proud of their efforts and rightly so.
As with the main feature, there are no optional subtitles present on the extras, English or otherwise.
This title is available to purchase direct through Spirit Level Film at www.spiritlevelfilm.com.