You Instead ***1/2 (out of five)
Take The Defiant Ones (two people handcuffed together), Once (two musicians coming together musically and romantically) and Before Sunrise (boy and girl get to know each other overnight in an exotic locale) and you’ve got You Instead, a joyous, exuberant ode to music, youth and everything associated with music and youth, which, if marketed correctly, should have been the biggest and best loved film to come out of Scotland since Trainspotting. (Unfortunately, the movie has already bombed in the United States, the UK, Spain and Russia, although France quite liked it.)
Shot amidst the massive Scottish summer music festival T In The Park, this seventh feature film from director David Mackenzie is spunky, vital and original (despite the obvious allusions mentioned above). It’s a glass of champagne rather than a meal, slight and shallow, and only eighty minutes – but it’s a great ride that just keeps growing on you. From the opening scene – an a cappella version of the title song, sung by two bandmates, Adam and Tyko (Luke Treadaway and Mat Baynton), collectively known as “The Make”, in the back of a tiny car – the film announces itself as fun, free-spirited and very clever. During this opening sequence you immediately suspect you’re in for a “found footage” film – until all of a sudden the camera leaps out of the car into a stable, conventional shot of the car from behind. But this, too, is a ruse – for the film is far from conventional. Shot on-the-run at the actual T In The Park festival, with real bands and 85,000 real revelers providing an absolute universe of background colour, You Instead is, perhaps, the next best thing to being there (or far better than being there if you don’t like mud).
I’ve never been to one of those massive, multi-day music festivals held deep in rural areas that become temporary mini-cities in themselves, but now I feel that I have. You get a sense of how such a massive beast behaves from all angles, from the thousands of tents for the general punters through the yurts for the mid-range bands and the buses for the headliners. Aerial shots show the enormity of the thing, while a quiet shot at dawn of incalculable tons of rubbish show the environmental impact (which is tempered by a shot of rubbish trucks in action – this was produced with full co-operation of the festival itself). And if the concept of 85,000 (mostly) Scottish youngsters drinking and drugging for days straight in the mud sounds like your greatest fear, You Instead essentially portrays the punters – who are, don’t forget, mostly genuine festival attendees – as simply fun-loving rather than violent or coarse. In one memorable moment, two very drunk revelers help out a third, who is spectacularly drunk – and it’s really quite touching.
The plot itself is wafer-thin: arriving at the Festival the day before being scheduled to play, Adam finds himself in a confrontation with the lead singer of “The Dirty Pinks”, Morello (Natalia Tena, who must become a big star out of this) before suddenly being handcuffed to her by a mysterious fellow who then disappears into the crowd. As “meet cutes” go, this one may be contrived – and the outcome may be pretty darn guessable – but the fun comes along the way, with The Dirty Pinks scheduled to play that night. Adam, Morello and both of their bands have to deal with both of their impending gigs, their respective partners, 85,000 revelers, and, of course, each other.
The music is terrific, with Newton Faulkner, Kassidy, The View and even the good ol’ Proclaimers all appearing on the Festival’s stages (Faulkner also has a very funny scene). The Dirty Pinks and The Make both have to do their gigs, and both bands were created and did actually perform at the Festival – very impressively. All the performances are winning, and while it’s not really full of laughs, it’s got a lovely vibe, nothing but positive energy, and a festival full of heart. The climax is almost unbearably joyful. Feel-good movie of the year, thus far? Absolutely. And if the title track, sung twice in the film in two very different versions, doesn’t get nominated for Best Song at the Oscars next year, then the producers and marketers of You Instead won’t have done their jobs in campaigning for it: it’s as wonderful as this wonderful, bubbly, slight and silly movie.