Comedy Oddities: It Couldn’t Happen Here

it couldn't happen here indexOn Imdb this sort of musical from the Pet Shop Boys is listed as “Adventure, Drama, Musical” without comedy in the mix, but that’s perplexing as surely anyone who’s seen it must have noticed that many a scene wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. Hell, Joss Ackland’s performance alone is deliberate comic, as he cackles away and delivers one liners which are a mixture of the bizarre and very funny.

A film which doesn’t really have a conventional narrative, it’s almost a selection of music videos strung together but it’s a little more unusual than that, as Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe play themselves and there’s a mixture of flashbacks to their youth and a mini road movie as they buy a car and drive around a bit, occasionally stopping off at a location like a cafe or a small suburban town, all the while either listening to their songs on the radio or singing along to them.

It’s a film which starts well but seems to run out of inspiration after a while. The first half features Gareth Hunt in three different roles, firstly a seaside cafe owner who is obsessed with sex and hates politicians, secondly as Neil’s supposed Uncle who keeps on trotting out the catchphrase “It’s only a laugh, no harm done” and thirdly as a ventriloquist. In this section there’s lots of satire of class and small town life, and religion comes in for a kicking as Joss Ackland’s priest wanders around quoting the bible and being dodgy in general, and Ackland also takes on the role of a serial killer who can’t stop joking, saying things like “I’m a bilingual illiterate – I can’t read in two languages” and “I used to be blind but then I started eating carrots”, though luckily for Neil and Chris he doesn’t stick around long enough to murder them.

A trip to a cafe sees the boys order Chateau La Tour 1942, while Neil Dickinson plays a fighter pilot who’s almost definitely not Biggles, even if we never find out his name, he flies a spitfire, and oh yeah, Dickinson played Biggles in the film of the same name a year prior. Not-Biggles also has a rant about the conception of time and later is seen reading “The Structure Of Time”, though this part left me confused and I’m not quite sure what the point was. The second half of the film is weaker alas, there’s occasionally some nice imagery, like a businessman who carries on the daily commute even though he’s on fire, though the satire is rather on the nose even if it sure does look pretty. We get to see some punks being violent and a couple of zoo keepers are painted to look like zebras, while Barbara Windsor pops up for the second time as Neil’s mother and they sing together, but by this point they’d used up all of the hits and were on to some of the duller album tracks.

I’m very fond of this era of the Pet Shop Boys and its a film which starts off in a ridiculously odd but quite enjoyable manner, and initially listening to their songs in unusual and unpredictable settings was entertaining. But once Joss Ackland and Gareth Hunt sod off it becomes stodgier, and there’s a couple of bits towards the end which frustratingly drag, leading it to be a film which I wanted to like far more than I actually did.

★★1/2

Alex Finch.
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