Friday, March 27, 2015

Have Some "Pride"

The fact that "Pride" is based on real life events involving real LGBT activists fundraising for striking British miners in 1984 doesn't make the plot feel feel any less contrived.  It's another charming, feel-good UK comedy like "The Full Monty" and "Waking Ned"!  It features wacky culture clashes between plucky young LGBT Londoners and the stodgier inhabitants of a Welsh mining town!  It's about timely social issues and has a sentimental streak a mile wide!  Spot familiar actors like Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Paddy Considine, Andrew Scott, and Dominic West!  But you know what?  Every formulaic, over-earnest, calculatedly uplifting thing about "Pride" works.  It works really, really well.
Joe, nicknamed Bromley (George MacKay), is a closeted young gay man who becomes part of a small LGBT group that forms to raise money in support of the UK miners' strike.  Their name is the same as their slogan: "Lesbians and gays support the miners," or LGSM.  Bromley befriends the group's leaders Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer), Mike Jackson (Joe Gilgun), and Steph (Faye Marsay), and older mentor figures Gethin (Andrew Scott) and Jonathan (Dominic West).  When the national miners' organizations declines to take money from them, LGSM decides to send the funds directly to one of the affected mining towns in Wales, Onllwyn, sparking an unusual alliance between LGSM and the miners.
There's a tendency to be wary of overtly political films because they can be very didactic if they're done badly.  "Pride" makes no apologies for being pro-labor and pro-LGBT equality, and anyone with opposing views might be uncomfortable with how strident the film is about its messages.  At the same time "Pride" is so positive and optimistic about people overcoming their differences in the name of a good cause, it's impossible not to want to root for everybody involved.  I think the story also goes down easier because there's a high degree of self-awareness - the Onllwyn locals aren't sure what to make of the LGSM members, and the LGSM members are perhaps a little too used to being treated like weirdos and deviants.  Making connections and the finding of common ground play out on a very human level, with a lot of humor and a lot of charm. 
"Pride" does a good job of playing on all the tropes we've see a hundred times, making them work to its own advantage.  As we've seen before, mixing reserved, older Brits with the naughtier elements of the counterculture can lead to very funny things.  The silliness isn't overplayed to the point where it feels unbelievable, though.  Nobody winds up in drag or takes the the miners clubbing.  Events are firmly grounded in reality, and clearly the filmmakers were always careful to respect their real-life subjects.  There's a lot of heavy material ito chew on here too, from the strike to the newly emerging AIDS epidemic to more personal troubles and traumas.  A lot of it is just about getting the balance right, so that the film is enjoyable without feeling slight.  Most of the characters fit very broad types, but they're sketched in well enough that it's very easy to become attached to them.
The bigger names get top billing, but this is an ensemble effort.  The younger actors, particularly Ben Schnetzer as the irrepressable Mark and George MacKay as our POV character, Bromley, do most of the heavy lifting.  Paddy Considine, as Onllwyn's delegate to the LGSM, has some particularly good moments that sell some of the more unwieldy parts of the script.  Occasionally the film flirts with dullness as it deploys familiar plot turns - of course there's an intractable homophobe among the Onllwyn townsfolk, and of course there are health scares and relationship scares and somebody unexpected comes out of the closet.  It's the actors who make it work, and work better than they reasonably should have, in many cases.  The ending of "Pride" is easily the most predictable and manipulative, and yet also the most satisfying, joyous, punch-the-air finale of the year.
I liked "Pride" much more than I was expecting to, and I think it comes down to the movie being the best version of itself that it could be.  There is absolutely nothing new or exceptional or unique about any of it, and yet it's a blast to watch. 

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