Derrick Borte’s London Town works overtime to warm the cockles of your heart. It’s extremely likable, but sentimental is the last thing a tale about growing up poor and angry in working-class, late-1970s England should strive to be.
What a volatile time for U.K. youth: racial segregation, the rise of Thatcherism, the Clash becoming the thinking man’s punk group. One such adolescent, Shay (Daniel Huttlestone) — yes, numerous leftist characters he encounters think his name is spelled Che — lives out in the sticks with his struggling, workaholic single father (Dougray Scott) and little sister, whom he’s forced to care for. Shay is estranged from his mother (Natascha McElhone), a rock musician who left for London years back, and meets a beautiful teen Clash fan (Nell Williams) whose ribald manner intimidates him. After his dad suffers an accident, this suddenly independent fifteen-year-old learns all the trappings of manhood: sex, running a business, brawling, self-defense.
All the ingredients for a gritty — if familiar — coming-of-age story are here. But London Town, though spirited, is consistently tension-free. The supposedly tough dad is a total pushover; the mom, who’s meant to be a wastrel, is an apologetic angel; the foul-mouthed punk rockette is just a naïve virginal sweetheart (as is Shay, despite his tantrums).
Any time the content threatens to become provocative, Borte resorts to feel-good musical montages. His corniest conceit is re-creating the late Clash frontman, Joe Strummer (played by an overzealous Jonathan Rhys Meyers), as a flesh-and-blood guardian angel to Shay. If this plot device doesn’t make Strummer spin in his grave, it will likely yield one or two “Bollocks!”
Directed by Derrick Borte
Opens October 7, IFC Center
Available on demand