Film review: Attack the Block and The Women on the 6th Floor

By Helene Wong In Movie Reviews

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31st March, 2012 Leave a Comment

Attack the Block

Alien invasion. Teenagers save the world. Yawn. And yet … there’s something fresh about Attack the Block. Possibly because the invasion targets a scruffy London housing estate. Or because it’s more spoof than scarefest. And it’s got Nick Frost, which may explain a lot.

Frost has been cast by his Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead acting mate Joe Cornish, who’s making his feature-directing debut here. Cornish is quite the busy hyphenate: as well as writing this, and some of the music, he co-wrote The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn – which happens to also feature Frost as the voice of the Thomson half of its bowler-hatted detectives. Here, Frost is the old man of the cast, playing a long-haired layabout geezer growing and peddling weed on the estate.

Not a stretch, then. The real stars of the film are a gang of teens, some black, some white, led by 15-year-old Moses (John Boyega), who patrol the estate and threaten the residents. I say threaten, but it’s more a mixture of boredom, bravado and adolescent energy with nowhere to go. The aliens, therefore, have made a Big Mistake by landing on their patch. With an assortment of domestic weapons and the odd toy, the boys go to war.

Along for the ride, unwillingly, are two older characters – one white male (stoned) and one white female (pissed off) – and two nine-year-olds also hungry for a rumble. So there’s plenty of the formula’s requisite action, even if it’s a tad drawn out – fights, chases, explosions, splatter, etc – but it’s the dialogue that makes the difference. Cornish has his young actors spout a Sarf London patois that takes a bit of getting attuned to, but comes across as funny and real in its nonchalant use of the idiom.

It’s way cooler, for example, to abbreviate: “Check it out” becomes “Check it”; “Believe me” becomes “Believe”. Not that there aren’t scary bits. I don’t mean the aliens – they’re just teeth and hair – but the script cleverly plays on the stereotypical fears that surround these kids, dials up the brooding, ambient menace of their actually very ordinary environment, and deliberately doesn’t release us from the anxiety until the end. And there’s social grit in the story that never goes so far as to obscure the comedy, but it’s not dispelled by it, either.

For all that, it’s kinda sweet. Yes, really. These are kids playing at being hard men, but they still need their mums. There’s a disarmingly frank openness about them that you can’t help smiling at. So, if you’re curious how funny, scary, gritty and sweet can work, take a look. As the kids would say, “Trust.” 

ATTACK THE BLOCK, directed by Joe Cornish. Click here for theatres and times.

Drawn from the time in the 60s when Spanish women went to Paris to work as housemaids for wealthy middle-class families, The Women on the 6th Floor is a cheery little comedy that turns the idea of upstairs downstairs on its head – the maids live above their families’ apartments – while having some gentle, if fantastical, fun with cross-cultural encounters.

Centred around the entry of Maria (Natalia Verbeke) into the repressed, proper life of the Joubert family, it follows the inevitable transformation of stockbroker Jean-Louis (Fabrice Luchini) and, to a lesser extent, his insecure wife, Suzanne (Sandrine Kiberlain), as they are drawn in different ways into the lives of the maids. Spanish exuberance and Parisian detachment are a combination ripe for cliché, and although director Philippe Le Guay and co-writer Jérôme Tonnerre don’t avoid it entirely, their touch is light, with just enough fleeting thoughtfulness to keep the film from becoming mere froth.

Luchini and Kiberlain assist by playing it straight. His Jean-Louis is suitably sweet-faced and astonished at what is happening to him, if lacking in chemistry where it’s needed; her Suzanne is uptight and blank-eyed. But it’s the Spanish actresses – you’ll recognise Carmen Maura and Lola Dueñas from Pedro Almodóvar films – who account for most for the film’s fun and energy.

THE WOMEN ON THE 6th FLOOR, directed by Philippe Le Guay. Click here for theatres and times.

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