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A stand-up double act scrabbles towards the big time, in the winning directorial debut of beloved comedian Ben Miller.
Starring Noel Clarke (Kidulthood) and Johnny Harris (London to Brighton), this lovable belly laugh of a buddy movie blows the lid off the sleazy stand-up comedy circuit... not to mention the mysterious realm of male friendship. Look out for basically every famous comedian in the country - they all have cameo appearances.
Live comedy is notoriously difficult to portray on film, the illusion of spontaneity, the appeal for empathy and the reality of jeopardy poorly served by the distancing of the screen. There are no funny films about stand-up, just tragedies, with laughter at the comics’ expense.
Nevertheless, and given the talent involved, you might expect more chuckles from Huge, Ben Miller’s directorial debut about a struggling double-act, the origins of which predate his partnership with Alexander Armstrong. Adapted from a 1993 play by Jerusalem playwright Jez Butterworth, which featured contributions from the original cast of Miller and stand-up Simon Godley, it’s a buddy comedy that’s rarely funny or endearing.
The story begins with Clark (Noel Clarke) and Warren (Johnny Harris) independently taping the same Morecambe and Wise re-run. Yet while Clark laughs and copies the gestures, Warren stone-facedly continues his press-ups, bounding from the floor to eject the tape and file it in his sizeable collection.
Working in a Greek restaurant, Clark amuses younger diners with a ventriloquist’s dummy. He also impresses waitress Cindy (Michelle Ryan), who reckons he should be on television. He’s content where he is though, except Cindy is dating his irritating boss (Russell Tovey). His nose rubbed in it, Clark gets drunk and lets a co-worker drag him to an open mic night.
There he witnesses Warren bound on stage and vow to shake up the lazy comedy establishment. Sadly, he’s terrible. An agitated Clark heckles, prompting Warren to beckon him up. What follows is scarcely Eric and Ern, but Warren perceives a future for their partnership, and the listless Clark, worn down by his boss, finally agrees.
He moves into the high-rise flat of Warren, who ditches his previous collaborator, the ineffectual Darren (Oliver Chris). Convinced of their greatness, at their first gig, the Hawaiian shirt-sporting duo are met with resounding indifference and find themselves perpetually rebuffed for stage time thereafter. In desperation, they resolve to break into the industry by gatecrashing the Comedy Awards aftershow party.
With Butterworth otherwise engaged penning Hollywood thrillers, Miller and Godley assumed sole control of writing the film’s script, with their knowledge of the comedy circuit affording Huge a grim authenticity.
Nodding to Comedy Store lore, at one club they’re advised that if they need the toilet, they should piss into the sink. Bizarrely, Simon Day appears as Comedy Cafe owner Noel Faulkner, yet Faulkner himself pops up as the sidekick to Ralph Brown’s cynically amused booker, one of the few actors to emerge from this film with any credit.
Others to do so include Sean Meo, Ian Stone, Earl Okin and Sarah Kendall, who each get to showcase a bit of stand-up, nab a few laughs, and leave the rest of the film looking less amusing by comparison. Ricky Grover does the business on stage too, but his menacing shtick is wasted on a superfluous chase sequence.
There’s one truly memorable moment, featuring a gathering of British comedy royalty. But otherwise, the cameos tend to work against the film. The notion of Matt Berry as a bored ad director is altogether funnier than the reality, for which he just looks, well, bored. Thandie Newton adds momentary Hollywood glamour as a carnivorous US agent, but her misconception of Warren and Clark as players is laboriously set up.
While the play focused tightly on Warren and Clark’s relationship, the film skimps on establishing why the viewer should really care about them or, indeed, their act, relying on montage and a contrived, literal do-or-die moment. Darren is never sufficiently developed as a character or as a threat to their partnership, despite, in his twee way, being the only one to elicit consistent laughs from a crowd.
Instead, we’re meant to wonder if Clark will cling to his artistic principles. But as he’s previously confided his dream of sipping pink champagne with Scarlett Johansson, there’s precious little suspense here, and Miller hurtles to a third act that’s entirely predictable within the film’s universe and baffling in any normal one.
Warren isn’t funny. Fine, he’s the unhinged, ambitious one. Yet crucially, neither is Clark. Seeing relatively little of him performing, the viewer has to judge him on his offstage interactions. So when character after character reiterates that he’s a mirth riot, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, it looks like collective psychosis.
The great pity is that with his unblinking intensity and pleading, puppy dog eyes, Harris suggests the duality of outward confidence and deep-seated insecurity of a true stand-up. But the good-looking, charismatic Clarke is miscast, never quite convincing you that he’s dying on the inside as well. Casting real comics as the leads might have been a step too far. But Huge unfortunately reiterates that finding the alchemy of a Morecambe and Wise or an Armstrong and Miller is an elusive process.
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson
Huge is being shown as part of the Edinburgh Film Festival at Cineworld at 6pm on Friday, and the the Cameo at 3.45pm on Sunday
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