I have seen a few Scottish rom-coms in the past few years and they have taught me one thing – Scotland just isn’t the place to be making rom-coms. I don’t know for certain what it is that makes them so unfilmable here in Scotland, but I am willing to bet that it’s somehow connected to our typically cynical views on life. They just don’t transfer to film when being stamped down and repackaged into something that follows a standard boy meets girl, hurdles are put up, hurdles must be overcome format.
Scottish Mussel is another attempt to have a stab at this type of thing, and it’s another unsuccessful end result. It does, however, come closer than most to providing viewers with a good mix of laughs and standard love story. I laughed aloud on a few occasions. It’s just a shame that the cons seriously outweighed the pros.
Talulah Riley, who also wrote and directed the movie, stars as a conservationist working in the Scottish countryside. Martin Compston, Joe Thomas and Paul Brannigan are three young men who end up meeting Riley when they are incorrectly accused of being pearl pirates (poaching mussels in order to find valuable pearls inside). When they realise how much money they could make, the three lads hatch a plan to actually start diving for those pearls. Compston volunteers to help the conservation service, putting him alongside Riley and her colleagues (including Morgan Watkins, who sports an American accent and an excess of charm). As he starts to fall in love, Compston realises that what he’s doing is wrong. Of course. But things are about to get complicated.
Here are the pros:
The main cast. Very few of the supporting players do well, but Compston, Riley, Thomas, Brannigan, and Watkins all do very well, even when hampered by having to put on fake accents.
The scripted gags. A lot of the lines peppered throughout the script ARE funny, either because of the character interactions or because they make amusing references to other pop culture touchstones (e.g. Compstons piece of advice to an otter about to be released back into the wild: “Choose life”).
The pacing keeps everything rolling along nicely until the predictable grand finale.
And here are the cons:
The choice of accents. Why did Joe Thomas need to be Scottish? We Scots can manage to be firm friends with English people, you know. The same goes for Harry Enfield, Rufus Hound, and a few others. They could have been allowed to keep their natural accents, or else those roles could have been given over to someone else with little impact on the film, as far as I can tell. And poor Morgan Watkins, he does quite well with his accent throughout, especially considering the fact that there was no legitimate reason to make his character American (well, barring one or two lines and characteristics that could have been mostly dealt with by making him, for example, a sensitive soul who had travelled around the world before landing his job in Scotland).
The soundtrack. One or two songs are overused, making them irritating after the second or third time around, while others feel either too obvious (Del Amitri, The Proclaimers) or just unnecessary (“Dumb” by The Beautiful South).
The character developments that either feel unbelievable or, at the very best, a bit rushed.
The parade of Scottish cliches and bizarre, although not entirely unwelcome, preaching of how lovely and great the Scottish countryside really is. Kilts, ceilidhs, whisky, mussels, Alex Arthur (a boxing champion who has a small, non-speaking, role), and did I mention The Proclaimers? There’s also someone wearing a top with some “Yes” badges attached (re: the Scottish Independence referendum), which seems to make the movie already dated, as well as ridiculously optimistic.
The finale. Of course a rom-com finale will be predictable and neat, but this one borders on being a spoof with just how tidy the resolution is.
And there you have it. If it’s any consolation, I felt bad for writing out that list. It just felt like the best way to easily show how the bad outweighed the good. The fact that there is some genuinely good stuff here, however, puts it at the head of a very small pack. It’s maybe not one I would rush to rewatch, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility either.
Scottish Mussel screened at EIFF 2015.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: TALULAH RILEY
STARS: MARTIN COMPSTON, TALULAH RILEY, JOE THOMAS, PAUL BRANNIGAN, MORGAN WATKINS
RUNTIME: 93 MINS APPROX