Reviews Short Narrative

Autumn Never Dies (2020) – 4 stars

Director: Chris Quick

Writers: Andy S. McEwan & Chris Quick

Cast: Duncan Airlie James, Chris Quick, Lynn Murray, Nicolette McKeown

Running time: 25mins

Filming a sequel is a treacherous business, whether you have billion-dollar-backers, or are relying on the odd tenner from Kickstarter to get it over the line. The key difficulty is being able to move your central characters on enough to justify revisiting them, but not so much that you put the core fan-base off. At the same time, the narrative needs some kind of knowing nod to reward return viewers for their loyalty, while still being able to have a life of its own.

In the case of absurdist Glaswegian comedy Autumn Never Dies, Chris Quick and Andy S. McEwan succeed admirably in presenting an enjoyable standalone film, while still managing to hark back to a wider universe outlined in a previous outing. The result is a glorious blend of dark, adult themes and affable stupidity that will have you with a moronic grin etched on your face for days.

Setting the stupendously dissonant tone of proceedings, we quickly learn that our lead character, Danny, is attempting to rebuild his life having hit rock bottom. Recently made redundant, he was dumped by his long-term girlfriend, before the death of a close friend seemingly pushed him to breaking point. Fortunately, his attempted suicide failed, and after months in hospital, he is looking to start over, with the help of his loutish if will-intentioned flatmate Nelson. Also, he is an ostrich.

Danny is an ostrich, and Nelson is a monkey – or rather, they are the poorly constructed sock-puppet versions of those animals. It is not something which the film ever feels the need to address, and it is all the better for it. On the one hand, having such potentially distressing topics being handled by puppets arguably offers the film a buffer through which people who live through them might need in order to stick with it for long enough for the film to overtly encourage them to seek help. The topics themselves are not handled cynically, and there are plenty of very genuine pieces of advice exchanged between characters who clearly do care for one another. At the same time, the choice provides more than a few moments of levity, where we still chuckle at the fact such horrendously dark motifs are being tackled by avatars that have all the emotional gravitas of Gordon the Gopher. We get a chance to laugh into the void – and occasionally that is extremely healthy.

On top of this, the fact that the exact logistics of a stuffed animal ‘living a life’ of any sort is never explained means uninitiated members of the audience are also immediately primed to start filling in gaps or forgive details which went over their heads. Indeed, there were plenty of moments where I, as someone new to the world of Danny and Nelson, did need to look the other way in this manner. Unaware that this was a sequel until a post-viewing research session, I was somewhat in the dark about the in-jokey opening credits and the many references to the pair’s “deer friand” whose funeral opens the film. Fortunately, “screw it, it’s a film where apparently sock-puppets can rent houses and drive drunk” was all the answer I needed to get past my momentary confusion.

This in turn elevates a lot of the humour which would have been rather blunt in the hands of an adult human. However, as is the case when a viral video catches a toddler saying something particular outrageous, the abrasive stream of crass slang that suddenly tumbles forth from the mouths of Nelson in particular left me in stitches.

One of the most fantastically blunt examples of this is when Nelson is stuck for questions on a speed-date. “Do you like cornflakes?” he asks earnestly. His confused partner intimates that she does not. “Oh. Fuck off then.” Is it Shakespeare? No. Is it funny? Inescapably.

Somehow, even amid the chaos of a plot that moves with all the speed of a galloping ostrich, the film also finds space for a series of excellent cut-away gags – including a fake blockbuster featuring a confused Nazi-Al Qaeda and Communist-Bandito terrorist duo – and call backs to earlier plot-points, such as a running joke about an over-protective mother who is convinced everyone with a pen and paper is trying to draw pictures of her children. While this does verge on excessive in moments, not allowing some jokes the space they deserve for us to digest, it is a forgivable excess in a film so evidently pulling out all the stops to just make people happy. For all it’s loveable stupidity, then, Andy S. McEwan and Chris Quick’s script it is a fantastically choreographed piece of comedic writing, packed to the brim with vibrant details that not only make for good jokes, but bring their absurd and disjointed world to life.

As mentioned, after the final credits rolled, I was curious to learn more about the filmmakers, and discovered a previous episode in the Danny and Nelson saga. Personally, I don’t think it is quite as good as this – the absurdity is slightly toned down, and its story seems to take itself a little too seriously, if you can believe that possible from a film where puppets endure a midlife crisis. If you are keen to get a little glimpse of what I have seen, I heartily recommend that you seek it out. In the meantime, I for one am hoping for a third chapter in the story.

Crass, on-the-nose humour is deceptively hard to pull off – just shouting random nonsense out in any given moment will not cut the mustard without constructing a context where it surprises the audience, or the comic timing to make the most of that context. Autumn Never Dies has both – while still having enough heart to carry off some legitimately challenging themes for a surrealist comedy about ostriches and monkeys.

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