Dir. Richard E. Grant. 2005. R. 120mins. Gabriel Byrne, Amanda Richardson, Emily Watson, Celia Imre, Nicholas Hoult, Zachary Fox.
Character actor Grant (Withnail & I, Gosford Park) steps behind the camera to make this imperfect but interesting family drama based on his turbulent childhood and adolescence in 1960s Swaziland, where his father was colonial minister of education.
Grant’s alter ego, Ralph Compton, is played as eager-to-please tweener by Fox and then as an intermittently rebellious teen by Hoult (the kid from About a Boy, now a handsome adolescent). Ralph’s mother, Lauren, is a serial adultress but we shouldn’t be too hard on her because, as in the 1987 colonial drama White Mischief, sleeping around is the primary pastime of Brits serving the Empire. Eventually Lauren runs off with another woman’s husband, leaving Ralph in the care of his defeated, alcoholic father, Harry (Byrne). Harry dispatches Ralph to a boarding school, and when Ralph comes home he finds his father remarried to Ruby (Watson), an extroverted American whose term for the toodle-pip baby talk used by upper-crust Brits is “wah-wah.” Initially Ralph snubs Ruby but is soon won over by her brass and no-bullshit attitude. But she, too, abandons him when Harry’s booze-fueled rages get out of control.
Episodic, repetitious and shapeless, Wah-Wah feels unnecessarily faithful to life and could have benefited from the imposition of a plot and/or a tighter edit. But the characters are compelling, the cast is first-rate and the cinematography is beautiful.—Cliff Doerksen