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Late Night Shopping

Late Night Shopping(2001)

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This terrific English comedy is a sleeper's sleeper, a smart and sexy take on slackers in Scotland that puts most American efforts to shame. Clever writing and smooth direction bring out a quartet of charming performances without resorting to gimmicks or cheap thrills. We develop an intense liking for the characters from the first scene forward.

Synopsis: Four young night shift workers hang out in coffee shops to share their lives, even though they consider themselves more acquaintances than friends. Vincent (James Lance) is a skirt chaser who believes that his wristwatch is charmed because it was once worn by Errol Flynn. Lenny (Enzo Cilenti) used to write for a porn magazine but is too shy to declare himself to workmate Gail (Shauna Macdonald). Desperately in need of companionship, Jody (Kate Ashfield) continues with the group even after she's lost her job. And Sean (Luke de Woolfson) hasn't seen his day-working girlfriend Madeline (Heike Makatsch) in weeks. He's been avoiding her, even though he's desperately worried that she may have left him. Eventually the petty romantic problems of the late night foursome become a communal project.

American Slackers as defined Richard Linklater's film tend to be employment evaders that have found convenient ways to sponge or chisel out a living for themselves. All of these Scottish twenty-somethings have jobs, but they're so bored out of their skulls they might as well be unemployed. Sean is a porter in a hospital, Vincent restocks store shelves, Jody works on a microelectronics assembly line and Lenny is a telephone information operator. Those working supervised jobs watch the clock and those left on their own find 'creative' ways to fill the time.

Our group congregates after hours in a self-serve coffee shop, forming friendships out of mutual alienation and wounded self-esteem. Their chat naturally gravitates toward the confused state of their sex lives. Lenny is convinced that his previous job writing smut for a men's magazine has warped his ability to deal with women. Vincent cultivates a 'shallow is good' philosophy and keeps faith in his ability to charm scores of women into his bed, pretending that he has no permanent feelings for them. Jody is desperate to form a meaningful relationship and is frustrated by the superficiality of her late-night friendships. And poor Sean is in a fine romantic confusion. He lives with a girl he never sees and worries that he's losing her. Instead of facing the situation, he cruises in a 'comfort zone' of blissful ignorance and denial.

Each of them endures a major crisis (losing a job, meeting a girl they're terrified to approach) but Jack Lothian's superb screenplay keeps the banter low-key and the comedy completely at the level of character. Sean and Vince are painfully aware of the future-fear associated with dead-end jobs. Sean watches the other hospital porters punch their time clocks like mindless Proles, and Vince is there when his older working pal has a heart attack.

Late Night Shopping uses that reality as a background for its character comedy. The foursome aren't as sentimentalized as the protagonists of Local Hero and aren't particularly Scottish in mannerisms or accents (much of the movie was actually shot in London). But we embrace them as attractive lost souls with great potential.

Late Night Shopping sketches these transitory relationships with a fine feeling for the nighttime city that seems to shelter them. A lot of humor derives from their adaptation to life in the sleeping city. Sean knows how to get stubborn vending machines to function. Vincent knows how to spot girls vulnerable to his advances, especially those on their way home from failed dates. As everyone trades news over coffee, we see many key story moments in the form of (impeccably edited) hasty flashbacks, frequently interrupted and continued at a later time. In true youth-movie fashion, the story winds up in a road trip to reconnect Sean and his girl. From that moment on everything becomes delightfully unpredictable. The comedy is droll and low-key as opposed to fall-down funny, but also deep and satisfying. It's good to think that somewhere in the world someone can still make movies like this.

All four actors do notable work, with the Luke Skywalker-like Luke de Woolfson expressing a fine state of distraction and James Lance displaying a growing need for something better than his one-night stands. Enzo Cilenti is a winning charmer as soon as he stops feeling so inadequate. Most of the best writing goes to Kate Ashfield's odd girl out, as she tries to provoke reactions from her male pals. Heike Makatsch is Sean's gorgeous girlfriend; she brings a winning vulnerability to a role that anywhere else would get by on looks alone.

The film has the perfect running gag involving a car radio that, once turned on, cannot be turned off or de-tuned from a nauseating soft-rock channel.

Home Vision Entertainment's DVD of Late Night Shopping looks splendid, with the expressive photography capturing a nice midnight-to-3am ambience. The film knows how to showcase its actors and has one of the few post-modern editorial styles I've seen that advances the story without being an artificial annoyance - the jump-cuts here somehow work just right, you wouldn't want to change a frame. The many flashbacks are particularly well handled.

The director and screenwriter share a commentary track that's a tad slow but a nice listen just the same; there's a making-of featurette that lets us see the engagingly talented cast and filmmakers off camera. The trailer is okay but can't convey the film's nice emotional atmosphere. This is a strongly recommended disc.

For more information about Late Night Shopping, visit Home Vision Entertainment. To order Late Night Shopping, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson