He’s dedicated his career to turning talented British actors into hackneyed, wooden dummies on the big screen, peddling his one dimensional stories, thinly veiled prejudices and syrupy, overblown sentimentality to despairing audiences worldwide. He’s helped turn the industry that produced Get Carter and the Italian Job into one that’s now known for churning out schmultzy, one dimensional romantic comedies.
Want evidence? I give you Ed Blum’s Scenes of a Sexual Nature.
Set on one afternoon in Hampstead Heath, seven couples go through seven different experiences. Exploring loneliness, love, lust, breakup and makeup, Scenes of a Sexual Nature offers seven different snapshots of romance. Its similarity to Love Actually is in some respects overwhelming (there are certainly a lot of Curtis cast favourites here), though its stories offer less in the way of neat conclusions, and are more content to leave things open ended.
But it does retain one key similarity – it’s poor on a lot of levels. The script is woeful, irritatingly reproducing tired stereotypes. French girls are sexually charged, homosexuals are promiscuous (and shouldn’t be), women are leaving children too late, people with tattoos and uncouth accents are stupid and objects of ridicule. Etc.
Debut director Blum has also picked a difficult starting point. Giving multiple storyline films any kind of structure or resonance is difficult, and establishing a link between all the different threads is crucial. Often some cataclysmic natural event connects all the characters in a shared epiphinal moment – the rain of frogs in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, the earthquake in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts – or one character’s journey effects everyone – Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run is a brilliant take on this idea. Blum doesn’t manage anything similar.
A relatively talented cast has little chance to shine. Dealing with multiple characters is also a directorial and scriptwriting headache and, as is so often the case, they have to spend most of their time hammily introducing each other and themselves (“listen, I know you’re a restaurant critic, and I know I work in the city, and I know we’ve been seeing each other for five years”…or something like that).
But Scenes is annoying for much more than this; it’s the commitment to a fantastical vision of middle England, where everything is sunshine, hampers and politeness, that’s really irritating – rounded off by Andrew Lincoln’s depressing attempts to be the next Hugh Grant (just say “sorry” a lot in a British accent). It’s this more than anything that Curtis seems responsible for.
Admittedly, it will probably entertain if you’re in the right mood. Ewan McGregor shines briefly as the sexually adventurous gay man longing to be a happy father. Gina McKee makes a pretty good pairing with Hugh Bonneville, two aging middle class people on an awkward first date. It’s short and snappy enough, and the brevity of each story means you’ve got little time to get bored with the characters. But it’s still essentially another a tedious British romcom – thanks to Curits, we may be producing them for a while yet.