Reviews Short Narrative

Care & Repair (2023) – 2.5 stars

Director: Michael Cooke

Writer: Michael Cooke

Cast: Michael Cooke, Hunter Bishop, John Cooke, Duncan Airlie James

Running time: 19mins

Care & Repair is a non-committal dramedy, dogged by strange choices. It seems almost afraid of its own potential; giving enticing glimpses of the endearingly vulgar black comedy, or the comedy-tinged working-class thriller which it could have been – but never daring to deliver on either front.

The film’s fence-sitting seems to lead it to make a number of strange and dissatisfying choices – perhaps best embodied by Duncan Airlie James’ ‘accent’. For some reason, in his portrayal of Geo – the surly boss of a Scottish plumbing company – James’ voice aims for Guy Ritchie territory, but regularly veers off in different directions, including one moment I specifically found myself wondering if he was supposed to be from Johannesburg. This was not just something James can be blamed for – the director signed off on it – and the fact he did feels symptomatic of a wider reluctance to make calls on what this film really should be.

Of course, from the comfort of my desk in another country, it is easy for me to say that Michael Cooke should have told James – an ex-kickboxer – to bin his ropy accent. But it’s the kind of decision you can’t afford to shy away from, if you’re attempting to underscore the film’s drama/thriller element with a believable threat. And while James is an imposing figure, he would have been an even more intimidating authority figure if he had been encouraged to work with his natural Glaswegian accent – as heard in Autumn Never Dies – without leaving the audience distractedly wondering what on Earth he is going for.

Cooke’s script similarly doesn’t ever quite have the guts to tell us what it wants from us. At the very beginning, it seems we are being served a warts-and-all fly-on-the-wall comedy, following three plumbers who have to wrestle with each other’s short-comings as much as with the customer’s dodgy boiler. But the banter of a riotous introductory segment soon loses its tempo, and is instead superseded by a dramatic accident, and a ticking clock element. When neither of these gains any momentum either, Cooke’s script falls back on comedy – but only to serve up a cringe-inducing slice of half-baked toilet humour. Nothing sticks, because the story never seems to have the guts to commit in either direction.

Illustrating what I mean, the aforementioned opening scene sees Stevie (Cooke) and Neil (Hunter Bishop) waiting for their hapless co-worker John (played by real-life brother John Cooke) to join them on the drive to their latest job. John is awake and aware of their presence, but leaves them sitting in the van to continue a habitual masturbation session. When he arrives, his long-suffering brother and colleague rightfully make fun of him, and let him know they are under no illusions about what took him so long. When he protests that he would never do such a thing, John is asked why he is sweating, only to wryly snap back “I was praying.”

It’s the film’s best joke, because first of all it is built on an unwelcome realism that has us flinching when we are given an unwanted insight into John’s apartment that morning. This then connects us to the frustrations of Stevie and Neil, and giving us further purchase when they voice our disdain – helping us take vicarious joy in his momentary embarrassment. And then at the end, we also see him get in on his own mockery, bringing us round to appreciating him like a crass friend or family member, something which should be important throughout the coming trials and tribulations of the trio.

Now, I should point out, I will be going into detail about the film’s story from here on in. There are artists who I know read my reviews for insight how movies are received by audiences, and to consider what not to do on their next project. It is not my intention to spoil a film for anybody though. So, if you plan on seeing Care & Repair, you should probably leave off here – though the film is more than capable of spoiling itself without my input, anyway.

Moving on then, when our three plumbers arrive late for work, their Mockney boss Geo angrily greets them. Stevie unconvincingly covers for his brother by saying traffic in the deserted roads had made them late – before they are introduced to the day’s client. An elderly man opens the door to the plumbers, and shows them to the boiler room. After Geo sees things are in order, he leaves his staff to their own devices. How badly could they mess this up, anyway?

Upon removal of the boiler, it becomes apparent: pretty badly. In a box concealed beneath the floor where the unit stood, John finds a loaded gun, and proceeds to flail it about wildly as the elderly customer brings the plumbers their mid-morning coffee. And so, for the second time in the space of a few hours, Stevie is left to cover for the mess his brother has caused with his right-hand before Geo returns. Perhaps there is a neat kind of thematic symmetry to this story, but unfortunately it falls flat because there is a disappointing lack of back-and-forth between the characters, to allow for some gallows humour to develop.

John simply regresses into a whining, moping child – unable to either defend his own actions, or find a way to endear us to him again in a way that helps us understand why his two colleagues spend the rest of the film breaking the law on his behalf. With Geo on the way, a frenetic rush to hide the damage he has done sees him defer to Stevie at every moment, delayed momentarily by a ‘humorous’ bout of intestinal distress, straight from a mobile phone soundboard. I am not saying toilet humour cannot be funny, but the lacklustre responses from the disgusted onlookers, and the underwhelming performance of John in this situation do nothing to sell it to us. To anyone who has seen the majesty that is Poo, this is something of a damp-squib.

In a rushed final segment, some threads are left hanging – as if there is room for more exploration of this story and these characters later. Most frustratingly, the revelation comes that John – as he continues to devolve into a whimpering infant – used his time on the toilet to try and hide the gun in its cistern; an act he specifically concealed from his brother, who probably would have had a better idea. When this is divulged as a final cliff-hanger punchline, it reinforces the weakened bond of three characters who don’t function as relatable or believable comic foils. As much as this might be primed for sequels, or a sitcom, then, it’s hard to see how that would work in its present state.

This is a production staffed by talented and funny individuals. Several of them cropped up in Autumn Never Dies (the director of which produced and edited this movie) – and the opening of the film at least suggests they all still know how to serve up the crass, absurdist black humour that made that production shine. Unfortunately, they seem to have pulled their punches in this case, and attempted something that is as much a drama as a comedy. In the end, it works as neither.

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