FANTASIA21 REVIEW: Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break [2021]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 95 minutes
    Release Date: 2021 (UK)
    Studio: Belstone Pictures
    Director(s): Nick Gillespie
    Writer(s): Matthew White, Brook Driver & Nick Gillespie

What did they teach you about revenge?

A mother’s love can move mountains. It must in the case of Paul Dood (Tom Meeten) since he doesn’t really have anything else propelling him forward. Did he aspire to be a superstar? No. He merely asked his mum (June Watson‘s Julie) if she thought he had what it took while watching an episode of “Britain’s Got Talent”. She of course said, “Yes.” She said he was “better than anyone else on that show.” Love is blind, though, and unwittingly creates lies since Paul is hardly a Susan Boyle with talent to spare if someone would simply give him a chance. He’s not even a William Hung earning views for second-hand embarrassment. He’s lucky to get three viewers per stream: Mum, Clemmie (Katherine Parkinson), and Bruce (Jarred Christmas).

Director Nick Gillespie and his co-writers Matthew White and Brook Driver nevertheless introduce their lead with extreme confidence as he readies for next week’s regional audition on a talent show/social media streaming hybrid called Trend Ladder. Except Paul got the date wrong: it’s today. Anxiety rises since his mother has yet to finish their matching sequin jumpsuits, but he has no choice. If he leaves the second-hand shop where he works now, he can collect her and hop the train to the auditorium. Thanks to a series of callous and/or inept strangers along the way (Steve Oram‘s platform supervisor Jim, Johnny Vegas‘ tea ceremony shop owner Rex, and the holy duo of Kris Marshall‘s Father Bronson and Alice Lowe as his assistant Kath), however, his dreams are squashed.

This is Paul’s Joker origin story. And it ignites what’s affectionately coined Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break—a ludicrous revenge quest against those who wronged him. That includes Trend Ladder personality/host Jack Tapp (Kevin Bishop) for disrespecting his enthusiasm and Mum’s costuming. It might include Bruce too since he hate-watches Paul’s videos at work to subsequently make fun of him to the chagrin of their New Age boss Jayney (Pippa Haywood). Will this soft-spoken doormat of a man be able to commit violence? Paul’s blood-soaked fantasies say yes. Clemmie, being an oddball herself, agrees by cheering him on because a bit of karmic release would do her good too. We’ll have to wait and see since the sight of death might also embolden him if he initially can’t.

The last hour becomes a hilarious romp as circumstances snowball out-of-control. Don’t therefore worry about the much slower pace of the start. Gillespie (this sophomore effort strikes the absolute opposite tone of his more serious debut Tank 432) and company use it to set-up the sprawling cast and talent show mechanics so that they can let loose atop that foundation later. We endear ourselves to Paul like we would a puppy, enjoy the comical mean-spiritedness of Bruce and Kath, and laugh at the absurd scenarios wrought by Jim and Rex in order to prepare ourselves for the carnage (intentional and not) still to come. It’s a smart maneuver considering more characters must be introduced (Mandeep Dhillon‘s PCSO Jane Miles and Craig Parkinson‘s Officer Able) once bodies start dropping.

Paul is livestreaming, after all. He has his phone affixed to his chest like a bodycam as he confronts his archnemeses and ultimately sees his follower count rise to stratospheric heights. Viewers wonder if what they’re seeing is real. The police mobilize for a pursuit. And everyone around town seems to be caught in the drama as Bruce contemplates turning him in while the locals he passes on the street clam up in terror. Wouldn’t you if you saw a forty-something man in a green sparkling unitard wielding a sword while sometimes riding in a wheelchair? The assumption is that Paul’s stark raving mad. Watching from a computer screen, however, makes him somewhat of an underdog legend. Why not smash that “like” button from the safety of home?

There’s a roller coaster of emotion running inside Paul too that’s just as destructive as his external path. He craves vengeance, but he’s not a violent person. It’s no surprise then that remorse and guilt arrive quickly as things go awry. Is this really who he is? Has he even done anything wrong? There are as many people calling for his head in order to stop the bloodshed as there are people genuinely unsure about whether he’s been anything more than a bystander like them. And let’s not forget that the people dying are hardly saints. Some are literal criminals and psychopaths nobody will be crying about when they’re gone. That doesn’t make it all okay, but it does help alleviate any trepidation we might have for laughing.

The humor is unapologetically British in his dryness, but I’d argue that’s the best kind. Many of my favorite bits had me simultaneously laughing ironically and unironically, both at and with the characters on-screen. Gillespie keeps Act One straightforward and focused on Paul, but the rest sees him cutting to and from perspectives at lightning speed for situational gags and one-liner reaction shots that ensure we haven’t the time to lose investment and thus risk missing a joke. Everyone is a delight and up to their assigned task (Christmas, Lowe, and Katherine Parkinson are highlights with Dhillon adding a ton as the sole straight man amongst them), but this is Meeten’s film. His Paul secures the center of attention with charmingly quaint ambitions and ferocious determination. He deserves victory.

courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

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