Tuesday 16 October 2018

Been So Long - Tinge Krishnan

Been So Long - Tinge Krishnan

What was perhaps most divisive about La La Land was its evolution of the Hollywood musical into something more cynically realistic. For all its overt song and dance numbers and romantic visual effects, it’s a film about a normal couple with an all too relatable ending.

Been So Long, from director Tinge Krishnan, walks a similar line. This is an urban fairytale about love – set up immediately in the opening scenes – that centres on ordinary people with ordinary problems. The film makes a fantasy of the everyday, its London setting a place where epiphanies occur in a kebab shop, where love songs are (hilariously) professed in the shower, where friendships reach breaking point at a bus stop. All this to the backdrop of mundanity, of gentrification, of danger lurking in the night.

It’s a bizarre concoction but it works. The core narrative is little more than soap opera fluff with a will-they-won’t-they hook. Simone (Michaela Coel) is a single mother living in North London setting her own life aside for the benefit of her daughter. Raymond (Arinzé Kene) is fresh out of jail on probation, cleaning the streets and living with his mother. They make an unlikely couple but, predictable as it all is, it’s hard not to get sucked into their developing romance. Coel in particular leads the cast with warmth and humour, deftly balancing the ironic juxtaposition of fantasy and reality, and her chemistry with Kene is palpable.

By contrast, the various subplots are under-developed. George Mackay gives an accomplished physical performance as Gil – a presumably homeless guy (though this isn’t confirmed) with an obsessive vendetta against Raymond. Yet the film sugar coats the darker side of urban life, leaving Gil as a cuddly comedy character rather than a pitiable villain. The same can be said of Luke Norris as Barney, proprietor of the local bar that’s in danger of shutting down and who clearly has an unrequited crush on Simone. The film’s love conquers all message feels naïve and saccharine in such an urban setting.

More than anything, the film is a love letter to London and British culture. The city is filmed in soft hues often at the cusp of dusk, with vibrant colours popping through the lighting, sets and costumes. Neon lettering for phone communication adds a modern edge too.

The music, from Christopher Nicholas Bangs (based on compositions from Arthur Darvill), follows the British theme. It takes its cue from British R&B, soul and hip-hop, which adds authenticity to the setting. It’s in the songs, though, that the fantasy kicks in, which is jarring at first. It’s not helped by some trite lyrics and lacklustre vocal performances. But this suits the relatable, everyday nature of the film – normal people living a fantasy.

And we all need some fantasy in our lives from time to time. It relies too heavily on shallow cliché, but Been So Long is tongue in cheek and comforting – exactly what you expect from a movie musical.


Watch: Been So Long is showing at the London Film Festival and will be released on Netflix on 26th October.