Sometimes you can know too much about a movie going in. In my recent review of “A Single Man,” I refrained from telling you that director Tom Ford is a famous fashion designer, the former creative director of Gucci who has his own clothing line. I think once you know that, you watch the movie look for a fashion designer’s touches. They’re all over that movie and you’ll probably see them anyway, but once you know who Tom Ford is, they’re pretty much all you can see.
So maybe I shouldn’t tell you that Shane Meadow’s latest film, “Somers Town” was financed entirely by Eurostar, the train line that operates the Chunnel. You are bound to be waiting for the exciting, “Mission Impossible” train scene, the spooky “Transsiberian” train scene, or the puzzling “Murder on the Orient Express” train scene. And you’ll be disappointed (to be honest, I’m not sure Eurostar would want you thinking about any of those movies while on their trains.) There really are very few trains or train stations in “Somers Town” at all. It might have started out as a Eurostar project, but it is, from first to last, a Shane Meadows film.
If you’ve never heard of Shane Meadows, maybe it’s time you checked him out. He is quickly becoming the heir apparent of legendary British filmmakers like Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, directors who have been making kitchen sink dramas about the English working class for the last thirty years. I first discovered Meadows a few years back when I saw, and loved “This is England,” and have been keeping an eye out for new work from him ever since. He has an eye for detail, a master storyteller’s pacing, and a way of getting the most from his actors in every scene.
In “Somers Town,” Meadows follows two teenagers– Thomas Turgoose, the star of “This is England,” who plays a slightly older version of that character here, and Polish immigrant Piotr Jagiello– around for a few days. Turgoose has arrived in London (via train) without a prospect; he just had to get out of the Midlands. He befriends Jagiello, who is left at home all day while his father goes to work, and then all night while his father goes out with his friends. “Befriend” isn’t exactly the right word for what Turgoose does to Jagiello, but the two so desperately need a companion, they become friends anyway. They work odds jobs to make some cash. They steal laundry to get Turgoose some new clothes (a heist that goes hilariously wrong.) They fall in love with a neighborhood waitress, and woo her together, as best they can. When she leaves for Paris, they get drunk together.
“Somers Town” clocks in at 70 minutes – less time than it takes to ride the Eurostar train from London to Paris — and isn’t really about anything. I complain fairly often about movies that are about nothing, but I thoroughly enjoyed “Somers Town.” There may not be a plot arc, but each scene is about something, and the actors and filmmakers are committed to each scene on its own. The result is an amiable, rambling, enjoyable little film that is off the screen before it gets tiresome. It makes me wish there were more train stations financing short films out there.