Sweet and lively and amusing and, ummmm, sweet, Svengali is an enjoyable British comedy that tries hard to win over viewers, but ends up being a bit too lightweight to make it worthwhile. Not that I’m saying films HAVE to be edgy or throw in some more adult content just to please jaded audiences. In fact, I enjoyed many parts of Svengali that were shiny, happy and quite naive. It’s just that there wasn’t ANYTHING more to it, to the point that the good parts felt disjointed. Watching the movie was like watching a 6-episode sitcom cut down to one 90-minute special for a repeat showing. There are gags there, some decent characters and enough to entertain, but you know that the other half of the material would have fleshed things out and made the world more . . . . textured.
Jonny Owen (who also wrote the script) stars as Dixie, a young man from Wales who heads to London with his girlfriend, Shell (Vicky McClure), to manage a band and make them into the biggest act in the world. He wants to follow in the footsteps of people like Brian Epstein, Malcolm McLaren and Alan McGee (who appears here as himself). First of all, however, he has to get the band to agree to letting him be their manager. Then he has to do everything else. Quickly.
It was only when reading up on the movie while writing up this review that I discovered it was an expansion of an online comedy series. That explains what I was getting at in the first paragraph, although I assure you that I wrote that BEFORE I found out the origin of the film.
Director John Hardwick keeps things light, helped by a number of decent performances, a lively soundtrack and cameo appearances from some top British talent (Martin Freeman, Matt Berry and Morwenna Banks being the scene-stealers). He might not be changing the face of cinema but he certainly tries to send viewers home with a smile on their face.
The same can be said of Jonny Owen, in terms of both his winning lead performance and his gentle script. He and Vicky McClure make a great central couple, it has to be said, and viewers will want them to do well. Roger Evans has fun playing a complete git, Michael Socha has grown into a UK version of Jake Gyllenhaal (which is a bit distracting at times, because he really looks A LOT like him in this movie) but does okay alongside Dylan Edwards as the two young men play the strong, fiery heart of the band that Dixie wants to make legendary.
Svengali, much like its lead character, is hard to hate. But it’s also hard to love. Instead, most viewers will end up finding themselves mildly amused for a while but ultimately disappointed by the time the credits roll.
DIRECTOR: JOHN HARDWICK
WRITER: JONNY OWEN
STARS: JONNY OWEN, VICKY MCCLURE, ROGER EVANS, ALAN MCGEE, NATASHA O’KEEFFE, MICHAEL SOCHA, DYLAN EDWARDS, MARTIN FREEMAN, MICHAEL SMILEY, MATT BERRY, MORWENNA BANKS, SHARON MORGAN, BRIAN HIBBARD, KATY BRAND
RUNTIME: 90 MINS APPROX