Can two professional con-artist sisters fool an artistic collective into believing they are an internationally famous pair of sibling poets? That’s the premise behind the fitfully amusing, but ultimately not fully successful Black Mountain Poets from writer/ director Jamie Adams. It’s a sort of romantic comedy, a sort of satire, a sort of ensemble piece. Nothing successfully gels though which leaves watching the movie and incredibly frustrating and unsatisfying experience.
Made by Jolene Films, Black Mountain Poets is the third in a trilogy of improvised romantic comedies made in Wales. Shot over five days to an outline created by the director, it is certainly impressive that a feature films worth of material was captured, but it appears that in the rush to get everything on camera the quality of both the performances, dialogue and on screen relationships have suffered.
Lisa (Alice Lowe) and Claire (Dolly Wells) have gone on the run after being unsuccessful in their attempt to rob a JCB. Through a series of accidents they find an invitation to a Black Mountains poetry retreat in a car they have stolen from the intended guests of honour, The Wilding Sisters, and decide to take their place. What follows is basically a fish out water satire as the pair attempt to ingratiate themselves with the rest of the retreat attendees. The target of the satire isn’t clear though – is it the pretension of the members of the Poet’s Poetry Society? If so the target doesn’t land. Are we meant to be amused by the fact a bunch of people are getting together and writing poetry in the first place? It’s very low-hanging fruit for a target.
The improvisational aspect of the film making does unfortunately make it seem like things are being filmed on the hoof with no preparation. Sometimes filming rehearsals instead of actual takes.
This isn’t the carefully applied school of improvisational work done by Mike Leigh (who’s Nuts In May is, one suspects, an influence), where over time characters and situations are formed and layered into an artistic whole before a single frame is shot. No, this is the “here’s the idea, we’ll film it and see what sticks” method. And you can tell. The storyline itself is scrappy, and that form of improvisation doesn’t let much in the way of characterisation leech through. Alice Lowe, who is normally brilliant, is left playing a completely one note character here. In fact, most of the actors are. It quickly becomes noisy and incoherent. And for a comedy it’s only occasionally funny, when there is the promise of much more.
There are a lot of talented people involved in the film, but unfortunately they aren’t being given much of an opportunity to show it. Still, it looks very pretty, the cinematography by Ryan Owen Eddleston is great.
Black Mountain Poets is out now on DVD.