A review of Simon Powell’s new film Girl Shaped Love Drug, and a few words from the man himself

In Film Reviews, Interviews, Leeds and Manchester Local News Contributions on December 22, 2012 at 4:48 pm

If a stranger walks up to you on the street, insisting that you share a connection – have been drawn together by fate, divine providence and the undulating restlessness of the stars in the swirling cosmos above you, you would think, this guy is a bit different. If this stranger then asks to take you out for a glass of wine, and he leads you to a supermarket kindly offering you the world and anything under £4.99, your provisional conclusion would be correct.

Girl Shaped Love Drug is a film that explores how coincidence brings two strangers together. But it is so much more than a gritty, urban fairytale. Simon Powell has created a quiet and tender love story that exposes the brutal scars of its characters as they fall victim to reality. The premise is simple: two strangers’ paths cross and they share a day together. It unlocks the secrets, misery and desires of a city and its inhabitants through the intertwined lives of Him and Her, the hedonist and the cynic. The fatalistic undercurrent is reminiscent of David Nicolls’s bestseller One Day; the love story that took over every beach, train and heart last summer. But in this one day, it is not so much what we learn about the characters, but what we don’t know about them that is so intriguing. Its beauty lies in the playful and naturalistic script, the unwritten words that instruct looks that linger too long, and eyes that have seen too much pain to trust. It is up to the audience to imagine the back stories of these characters. How did they get here? How did they escape? Why are they pretending to cope?

Him and Her

Him and Her

The film is shot in Manchester and entirely in black and white. This offers the audience a nostalgic lens and opportunity to look again at a city centre crawling with lonely figures. The slick cinematography makes every frame look like a picture-perfect postcard and a meticulously considered work of art. In Powell’s own words, black and white “just kind of felt right.” By reverting back to the minimalism of monochrome, it enables a romantic stillness to be created within a bustling city, a stillness that focuses solely on Him and Her. The film premiered at the Greater Manchester Film Festival in October and now that word has spread, it has recently been invited to screen at the Cinequest festival in San Jose in February 2013.

The first real insight we get into Him, is over a coffee counter run by his barista mate who introduces him as “the most eligible bachelor in town.” This disinterested bachelor proceeds to splurge various scientific and philosophical theories as to why this is that, and that is that, and why he refuses to settle for just any girl. He tells the barista that waiting around is no way to live, but puts it more succinctly as: “trust yourself more, just be like, fuckin’ courageous.” His thick, Mancunian drawl is helped out with some considerate script-writing that lends itself to heavy assonance to emphasise every four-letter-word beginning with ‘f’. Here, the film gives an unwitting nod to Richard Linklater’s Waking Life which explores the curious musings of a lost boy trapped in his own lucid dream. It appears that our protagonist suffers from similar confusion. During this encounter, She walks into the coffee shop. He sees her three times in one morning, and decides that this is just too much of a coincidence. He is destined to speak to her.

Manchester: city of love

Manchester: city of love

Sacha Dhawan plays Him exquisitely, as the handsome and brooding last of the dreamers. Dhawan masterfully switches from slightly creepy stranger, to whimsical Austen-esque romantic, to troubled loner. Him and Her share an awkward yet intriguing first encounter on a bench in the city. Rachel Austin gives a raw and utterly convincing performance as Her, and responds to His random and peculiar advances with natural Mancunian flair for guttural scoffing. After knowing each other for a mere four-and-a-half hours She takes Him back to her house whilst she changes her clothes. What follows is an excruciating scene as He is confronted with the gatekeeper. The silences speak louder than their four letter words ever could. Her cigar-smoking and complicated father is played excellently by Dean Andrews, and could easily rival Liam Neeson in the shortlist of top fathers boys should be scared to date the offspring of.

In an attempt to tame this overprotective father, He surprisingly explains that he is a virgin, successfully diffusing the potential of World War Three. Like a converted hooligan who now revels in changing the course of others’ lives, He has this power to make people open up and confess. Dhawan plays him with a multifaceted complexity. With his nuanced phrases, looks and laughs he completely embodies this intriguing character of a haunted angel, a lonely wanderer. All of a sudden this father’s guard is down, and he melts into the pain of his past, how uncertainty plagues his imagination, and reveals the horrific incident that happened to Her, and that is why he is such a bastard.

After asking her father’s permission to take her to what he regards as a nice, little bistro by the station the plot takes a striking turn when He suddenly leaves Her to finish off an encounter with an old acquaintance in the park. The terrifying and unexpected actions of Him shock the audience. There is more to Him than we first realise. The film gently chips away at his mask like a marble sculptor, gently knocking off various edges, and smoothing Him out to reveal a dark and troubled – yet still unexplained human being. He pretends to be people’s guardian angels, when the reality is, he needs one the most. We want desperately to believe in angels, because we all need one.

A strange encounter

A strange encounter

Exhilarated after the action that seems to shock even Himself, He returns and asks Her to marry him. Her answer, of course, is a curt “fuck off”. A few too many drinks in a pub them back to his apartment where they exchange vulgar party pieces and impersonations. Their romance is never obvious nor is it inevitable, with their chemistry being more intellectual than sexual. We don’t need to know what happened to Him, or ask, like She did after seeing his bare arms for the first time, why he tried to kill himself. If pretending, or at least living by what he believes is right, then why the hell not carry on? The film and their day ends tenderly to fulfil the prophecy of one day with two strangers, and three coincidences, all of which are drawn together more by necessity than fate.

The film’s originality lies in its format as a series of vignettes. It could perhaps play upon this feature by introducing time-markers. We know that the action takes place in one day, but specifically divided and titled scenes would exploit its monochromatic lens by reverting back to cinematic simplicity.
Him and Her could be transported from Manchester to any other city and play out their parts by drawing another psychogeoraphical map over another cathedral, bar, coffee shop, pub or park. The audience understands its ‘Northern’ location through the characters’ dialect, but the principles of attraction and adventure at the core of this story are true to any city because it explores the links and the distances between people and their places.

The idea for the film was conceived from two of Powell’s personal experiences. The first being what he describes as “a personal journey with a woman that I love deeply.” The second was an encounter with a man called Deano Small. In the film, Deano Small is a random yet pivotal character in the development of the story.

Deano Small

Deano Small

As He watches Her people-watching, and they quietly reflect on why people choose to be unhappy, they are confronted by Deano Small. On a first impression, he is part football hooligan, part Frank Gallagher. Introducing himself as “off me ‘ead!”, he kindly offers not to urinate in the cathedral gardens they are sitting in and intersperses every other word with “fuckin.” He is a vulgar blip in a quiet, romantic scene. But all of a sudden the camera zooms in to fill the frame with his trembling face and the camera switches to a hand-held shot that quakes in time with the heaving sobs of Deano Small. Lonely and bruised, he has been wandering for seventeen years, desperately trying every day to end it all and escape his tortured memories. He suddenly takes Deano into his chest telling him, “I can hear every fuckin’ word.” What makes Deano Small reveal his soul to two strangers who had only just met themselves? What makes people open up to Him? This film powerfully conveys and unmasks the interconnectedness of strangers, pooling all our misery and loneliness to make us remember that we all pretend sometimes.

Powell met the real-life Deano Small in Bristol last summer with his friend. He explains that “it broke my heart to see this man crumble and breakdown before my eyes.” Coincidentally, the friend with whom Powell shared the experience bumped into Deano Small recently at A & E in South Wales and told him about his unwitting starring role. Powell has now tracked him down and planning a trip to reunite with this former stranger, and personally give him a copy of the film.

It seems as though the theme of strangers drawn together by fate extends beyond the boundaries of the screen for Girl Shaped Love Drug.

For more information about Girl Shaped Love Drug, please click here

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