BEING NICE is an independent British feature that was released on 14 November 2014. Written, directed, and produced by Andrew Blackburn, the film stars Jessica Francis, Alex Warren, Jackie Howe and Nicola Hollinshead, with support from Dan Cohen, James Clossick, Gabriella Schmidt, Katerina Watson, Matt Jamie, and Tommy Vine.
The film tells the story of Jen (Francis), a recently-graduated, precocious young artist who is struggling to become an adult, personally and professionally, as she starts a new job in a small -- but hot -- London advertising agency.
This story is a romantic comedy that is quite character-driven. Blackburn wrote and directed the film in a way that maintains the dramatic focus on Jen and her struggle to adapt her dreams to fit the world of advertising. Recently dumped by her boyfriend and on the verge of admitting she'll never make any money doing something she loves, she begrudgingly takes a trial at the agency.
Much to her surprise, after connecting with a disillusioned colleague, Jen starts to enjoy life -- and the sex and drugs that follow. When her spontaneity gets in the way of responsibilities and the pull of the carefree life she left behind gets stronger, she must learn to behave like an adult, personally and professionally, to hang on to her new life and people she's started to fall for.
In a one-off use of a hand-held camera, the opening scene shows several pieces of artwork hanging on a wall. Only later does the viewer realize that these pieces are Jen's and the wall is in her room at her mother's home, where she still lives despite having graduated from uni. The implication of the "shaky-cam" effect is apparently that Jen shot the footage herself. This scene is emblematic of her situation at the beginning of the story. She is an artistic dreamer who has not yet ventured out into the world on her own. Even her trial at the agency was facilitated by her mother.
Blackburn then introduces us to Jen's university friends, many of whom -- like her erstwhile boyfriend, Tim (Vine) -- are unemployed and aimless. Seemingly threatened by her success, Tim belittles it and withdraws from her. Nevertheless, Jen's close friend, Rachel (Schmidt), remains supportive and acts as a link for Jen to her circle of old friends.
By comparison, the world of the agency has both similarities and differences to Jen's old life. In her immaturity, she emphasizes the similarities and ignores the differences. This approach leads her into some serious problems, both personally and professionally. In essence, Jen finds that her "being nice" strategy does not work in the London advertising world.
The film has an artfully satisfying way of showing how Jen works out this dilemma. A significant part of the credit for this goes to its cast. The dialogue was improvised, so the actors really had to be into their characters in order for their lines to ring true. They were, in fact, spot on.
Jen's most intense and problematic relationship is with Nick (Warren), whom she meets at the agency via an embarrassing faux pas in which she criticizes Nick's work on a project. Jen also becomes friends with Ali (Watson), the assistant to the firm's head person, Kat (Hollinshead), and also Nick's girlfriend. The three eventually become a trio of friends who drink and go to pubs and gigs together.
Then Ali goes on a spa holiday by herself, implying in conversation with Jen that she might be unfaithful to Nick while she is gone. During this time, Jen offers to help Nick with a client presentation that is a train ride's distance away. When she and Nick stay out too late in a local pub after the meeting, they find that they cannot get a cab or train back home. Bad decisions are made by both that lead to an uncomfortable complication in the trio's relationship.
It is how Nick and Jen work out this problem that marks a growing-up phase for both of them. Neither is inclined to full commitment, either to work or to other people. Kat plays a key role in Jen's maturation here, with her insights and advice on Jen's personal and career situations and decisions. Hollinshead deserves kudos for the strength of her supporting work here -- she causes the viewer to wish that he or she also had a boss like Kat.
The cinematography by Rob Wilton (assisted by Andrew Corrigan, Max Sobol, and Zoe Bulbeck) is brilliant, especially given that the cast members were doing improv. The editing by Vee Pinot provides smooth transitions from scene to scene and is especially effective given its pairing with the entirely appropriate and symbolic musical score by Mat Riviere. The only drawback of the film is that its action runs a bit slow in the second act.
While BEING NICE is a romantic comedy, it is not syrupy or sweet. The hard edges of life are clearly apparent; solutions to its problems are not easily found. Blackburn's debut as a writer/director, this film is highly recommended by Loud Green Bird. It is an example of what can happen when an independent filmmaker writes a great story, has outstanding assistance from his crew, and assembles a cast whose members work together like a seasoned ensemble.
DISCLOSURE: In exchange for a fair and objective review of the film, free access to a screener of BEING NICE on VHX was provided to Loud Green Bird by Rachel Devenport of Devenport PR. No financial considerations were involved.