Wah-Wah Written and directed by Richard E. Grant Samuel Goldwyn/Roadside Attractions, opens May 12
A well-scrubbed 11-year-old is jolted awake in the backseat of his dad's Mercedes to discover Mom (Miranda Richardson) gripping the dashboard, breathing hard, boinking another guy. It's the summer of '69 in Swaziland, and English colonialism is going out with a bang. Dad (Gabriel Byrne), the country's alcoholic minister of education, bullies his adulterous wife into flying the coop, ships the kid off to boarding school, and marries Ruby (Emily Watson), a loopy ex-stewardess whose disdain for the snooty upper crust eventually earns the favor of her rebellious stepson. That the film is semi- autobiographical for caustic actor-turned-writer-director Richard E. Grant helps explain its severely, sometimes laughably bitter tone. By the time Grant's twitchy alter ego (Nicholas Hoult) returns home as a teen and joins the adult bourgeois in staging an amateur production of Camelot(!), the insularity appears pointedly absurd. Grant is no Douglas Sirk, but his imitation of life makes plain that the darker tale of budding independence still hasn't caught the gentry's eye.