Dir: Jon Drever
This is a surprisingly enjoyable film that at times struggles with blending the two directions it’s pulled in, yet manages to convey the warmth and heart that’s key with a strong sense of its British identity.
Postal worker Bob (Brett Goldstein, ‘Derek’) gains superpowers after being struck by a meteorite, putting them to use by working for the U.K. Ministry of Defence with just one day off each week. This film follows Bob on an eventful day off where he finds himself torn between being the hero the world asks for and the man he wants to be.
Primarily it’s a romantic comedy, with a superhero twist. Largely presented in a mockumentary style though at times that’s easily forgotten as it’s not constantly making a point of it. It’s proudly and undeniably British in many ways, especially the humour which is not going to appeal to all, and I can’t say how well the humour will translate internationally, I can’t even write humour without wondering if I need to adjust it for my American readers… humor… humour… I’ll stick with the British spelling as it’s a British film (and it’s the correct way of spelling it!). Ostensibly much of the comedy comes from the idea of Bob being a ‘normal guy’ in every way other than his superpowers, showing him struggling with more everyday scenarios. In some ways the premise is similar to ‘Hancock’ (and ‘The Return of Captain Invincible’ before that) but it’s less ‘family friendly’ and aims for the more mature audience.
Developed from the simple short the director made a few years earlier, which you can watch on YouTube here. It’s quite nice to see this sort of film done to a high standard with a suitable budget, these are often the stories that get developed as really low-budget straight to DVD spoofs or parodies, or just stay in the realm of fan-made short films, but here it’s given a slick production that is up to cinema standards, though I watched it at home (albeit on a large projection screen) and it felt like it worked just as well in that environment. It’s not surprising that the production is of a good standard when you consider director Jon Drever received international attention last year for being a producer on documentary ‘Virunga’ which was nominated for a BAFTA and an Oscar amongst other accolades.
Much of the cast also have international recognition, most prominently Catherine Tate (‘Dr Who’ and ‘The Office: An American Workplace’) as Bob’s MoD boss, and Bob himself is played by Brett Goldstein who had a frequent role in Ricky Gervais’ ‘Derek’. There’s also a small role for David Harewood (‘Supergirl’) as a news anchor, though I felt he’s a bit wasted as there’s nothing much for him to do so he feels more like a cameo part which is a shame.
The central performances are excellent and many dial up the British sensibilities, finding humour in manners and apologising as well as little traits more familiar to people on this side of the Atlantic. Most of this comes across, at least to me personally, very well but the film at times is torn in two directions characterised as what is ‘Super’ and what’s just ‘Bob’. Without a doubt it works best when being low-key and focusing on Bob trying to have a normal life and attempting to get a girlfriend for the first time since being struck by the meteorite.
On most levels the romance thread is very conventional and almost completely predictable but it works thanks to the British charm and likeability of Brett Goldstein. What falls short is the brief scenes and shots in the TV news studio, which while it allows for the development of certain good ‘superhero-related’ themes (some of which it has in common with ‘Batman vs Superman’ and Captain America: Civil War’). Sadly the studio scenes look a little too under-produced with the studio itself feeling fake and teetering riskily on the appearance of parody or spoof which it’s not meant to be. If those scenes were shown on TVs in background they would be far better and would mask the oddly sparse and flimsy looking set and related graphics. The only part in which those bits really worked for me was at the very start of the film when we see through social media and TV clips how Bob gained his abilities, with some brilliant training moments cut with talking to local people (played by comedians who would probably only be recognised by U.K. audiences) who know Bob, many critical or completely unimpressed, yet another piece of British humour.
It’s funny how when the film accepts it’s a British low-key romantic comedy it really works, but when it tries to be a flashier more Hollywood-styled superhero movie it feels badly fitting. I wish I could say that was a deliberate effect, but sadly I don’t think it’s intentional but more a clear demonstration of where the strengths really are. Overall it is the romantic comedy that comes across, in great part thanks to Brett Goldstein’s performance I felt myself really warming to Bob almost instantly and caring about his life and loves, rather than ever wishing for more action and heroism I was rooting for him to get the girl and enjoying Bob’s day off more than he was.
‘SuperBob’ is available on DVD from the usual online retailers and on VoD.