CAST: Samantha Morton, Jonathan Pryce, Tom Felton, Adeel Akhtar, Colm Meaney, Susan Wokoma, Erin Richards, Owain Yeoman, Rhod Gilbert, Dora Davis, Joe Hurst, Thaer Al-Shayei, Fflyn Edwards, Harry Luke
RUNNING TIME: 109 mins
BASICALLY…: When a theatre in a small Welsh town is threatened with closure, a local woman (Morton) campaigns to save it…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
It has been an extremely rough time lately for the cinema industry, with the pandemic leaving such a serious dent in box office intake and overall attendance that it’s been estimated to take at least a couple of years before levels are back to how they were, so making a film about the importance of the cinema in local communities seems like a worthwhile cause at the right time.
Couple of things, though. One, for a film that is called Save The Cinema and is primarily focused on efforts to get people into the auditorium, it’s impossible not to point out the irony of this movie going straight to streaming, where most people will see it instead of its extremely limited theatrical run. Two, as well-meaning as it is, it’s the kind of twee and inoffensive British drama that is best played at home on the telly on a cosy afternoon and not, funnily enough, on the big screen as it endlessly preaches. In other words, it’s not an especially genuine product, and that’s only part of the disappointment.
The film is based on true events that unfolded in 1993 within the small town of Carmarthen in Wales, which is home to the Lyric Cinema venue that hosts regular film screenings and theatre productions. It is particularly adored by Liz Evans (Samantha Morton), a local hairdresser and head of the community’s child theatre group, so she is shocked to find out that the town council, headed by corrupt mayor Tom (Adeel Akhtar), is planning to knock it down and build a shopping centre in its place. Her tireless campaign to save the venue from destruction eventually reaches the shores of Hollywood, where none other than Steven Spielberg authorises the use of his new blockbuster Jurassic Park to be shown as a special regional premiere, as a means to preserve the venue and its legacy.
Like a number of recent Sky Cinema original films, Save The Cinema sticks firmly to its formulaic guns and doesn’t set out to be anything more than it actually is. It follows a very standard storytelling pattern, essentially the “saving the community centre from dastardly developers” narrative from Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, establishing familiar character traits from the do-no-wrong protagonist as portrayed by Samantha Morton to the boo-hiss pantomime villainy of Adeel Akhtar’s mayor, all the way to Jonathan Pryce as the elderly and good-natured projectionist whose own arc goes exactly how you are probably thinking it goes. It’s all very predictable, even if you don’t know the true story that this is based on, and wholesome to a fault as the script tries desperately hard to establish an old-fashioned family-centric tone that comes with its own sugary sentiments. Director Sara Sugarman emulates shots and feelings from classic British treasures like Goodbye Mr. Chips (referenced both verbally and visually) and How Green Was My Valley, which is central to a key cheesy scene as the audience starts singing along to “Bread of Heaven” as it plays in the movie, but often they don’t feel as earned and just inserted into the film to drub up emotional responses from the viewer instead of actually serving a true purpose.
The tone it’s aiming for is clearly that of the all-pleasing type that turned the Paddington movies into a cultural success, but most of the heartfelt moments here fall on deaf ears as its overly simplistic nature comes across as pandering and disingenuous. That aforementioned scene with How Green Was My Valley, for example, feels particularly cloying as it strives to reach into Welsh pride in the most blatant and obvious way possible, and characters will meet heavily foreshadowed ends that are instantly followed by the shedding of tears (mainly from children) directly into the camera, just in case it hadn’t already spelled out the tragedy of the situation for us. If Save The Cinema really wanted to be a genuine capturing of the theatrical experience, then it would have stayed far away from its basic emotional manipulation and focused much more on the communal experience outside of simply having everyone belt out “Bread of Heaven” during a classic movie; we hardly know many of the people who live in this town, which makes it seems like the only people caring about this whole theatre situation are the small number of people we’ve been focusing on. There needs to be more than just Samantha Morton going around and telling everyone that it needs saving, no questions asked; we need to actually see the impact of the cinema itself on other people instead of this one individual for the message to feel more poignant.
If you really want to save the cinema, just go to one; they’re open right now, still playing hits like Spider-Man: No Way Home and West Side Story, which should be more than enough to entice you out of the house and from seeing this cloying disappointment from your living room.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Save The Cinema is a disappointingly twee British drama which squanders its well-meaning message with audience pandering and disingenuous writing, which feels condescending instead of encouraging.