Two things I’m up for at almost any time: movie musicals and kebabs. Fortuitously, this week’s film brings together both of these interests. Added bonus is the leading role for the multi-talented Michaela Coel, whose star seems very much on the rise of late. But do all of these elements create something greater than the sum of its parts or do they mix as well as orange juice and toothpaste?
Been So Long
A single mother who has been burned before connects with a man who has recently been paroled but fears opening up her heart again.
Simone is a single mother struggling to balance working as a hairdresser with caring for her daughter who uses a wheelchair. In contrast to her more relaxed mother and carefree bff Yvonne, Simone is very tightly wound. She very rarely makes time for herself or agrees to a night out…and Yvonne is sick of this nonsense.
Meanwhile, recently paroled Raymond is hoping to reconnect with friends after 3 years incarcerated. Everyone seems to have moved on with their lives, though, and he’s stuck at home with his mother and an ankle monitor. The one person who hasn’t moved on seems to be a mysterious and mentally unstable man following Raymond. Who is this man and what’s the deal with his obsession?
After her mother steps in to babysit, Simone reluctantly heads out for a night on the town with Yvonne. Their first stop is the neighborhood bar, Bar Arizona, which has certainly seen better days. After Yvonne catches the attention of Raymond, the only other customer there, she sets him up with Simone.
As it turns out, Simone and Raymond have a bit of a connection, though she is keen to avoid the mere possibility of a romantic relationship. When she realizes Raymond has been recently released from prison, Simone pushes him away…but they reconnect when they end up on the same bus later that night.
Eventually, we learn that Raymond was incarcerated largely because of a friend’s drunken decisions, though he accepts responsibility for his own choices. Not proud of his past, Raymond is also embarrassed by his current work as a street sweeper and binman.
Rewinding to 3 years ago, we also learn that Raymond’s stalker, now wielding a kebab knife, instantly fell in love with Raymond’s girlfriend at the time. No other mention of this woman or what happened to her…so to say this plot point is stretched too thin is an understatement.
Simone is also contending with mistakes from the past meeting the present as her daughter’s father, Kestrel, hopes to spend time with their child. Because Kestrel is a recovering addict who wasn’t around for the earlier years of his daughter’s life, Simone doesn’t trust him at all and insists he stay away.
Throughout, Simone seems to be trapped in a cycle as she gets close to Raymond only to push him away.
In the end, are kebabs powerful enough to bring this couple together once and for all?
3/5 Pink Panther Heads
I don’t know where to begin–there are a LOT of issues with this film. Perhaps the most frustrating is its failure to fill in details. Rather than create suspense, the vagueness is distracting and makes it difficult to get invested in our characters and their lives.
Related is the ordinariness of the film’s plot. The stories feel too unremarkable for a musical, so it’s frequently underwhelming. Seriously, a knife-wielding, mentally disturbed homeless man wants to kill someone because he fell in love with his girlfriend 3 years ago based on seeing her ONCE? And then changes his mind because he just wants someone to sympathize with the idea of love being difficult? What a WEAK story line.
Simone and Raymond’s past experiences also feel underdeveloped. We don’t get to see these experiences and their emotional impact on the characters, so it’s difficult to believe that their trauma explains their current behavior. It seems to me that Simone may have some mental health issues or some additional experiences that have shaped her life, but the film doesn’t explore these possibilities.
Speaking of mental health, the way Gil’s (aka kebab knife dude) mental health is handled is rather cringey at times. The balance of comedy/drama is way off there. Sometimes Gil is treated as genuinely dangerous and in need of help, and at other times he exists only for comic relief. I really felt for him even as I was annoyed by his stupid love at first sight plot line.
Because the characters and their issues don’t feel real, it’s impossible to feel the supposed instantaneous connection between Simone and Raymond. It’s also difficult to feel like Simone has undergone the changes the film tells us she has.
It’s refreshing to see a mostly Black cast of Londoners in a musical. And I do like that we can hear the London accents in the songs. However, everything else about the musical numbers is largely forgettable. The one I remember best is Gil’s soulful song “Been Too Long,” but even that one I mostly forget. It doesn’t help this film at all that I’ve recently been listening to the Kinky Boots soundtrack on repeat, which is both much more fun and emotionally resonant.
Honestly, without Michaela Coel in a leading role, this film would have gotten a much lower rating from me. She’s great, but this is kind of a mess.
3 thoughts on “Been So Long, or: I’ll Buy You a Kebab”
Completely agree. I wasn’t even sure if Raymond had dated that girl or was just talking to her and that’s not on me, it’s on the frailty of the subplot. I read in another review somewhere that it would be utter madness to confront someone the way Yvonne does Gil outside that club, especially when he’s do clearly unstable and in need of professional help.
And I also agree about the way his mental health is framed, is he the comedy character or do we need to take him a bit more seriously? When he finally confronts Raymond I was concerned about the way the tone was shifting but they just ended up cuddling. Bizarre.
Michaela Coel though. And kebabs. And Camden forever xoxo
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Oooooooooh, yeah, the scene where Yvonne confronted Gil was so bizarre. I didn’t understand how we as the audience were supposed to read that–it didn’t really feel empowering since Gil was very obviously unwell. But I also didn’t totally sympathize with him since he was acting so damn creepy in most of his other scenes. Like so much of this film, I found myself asking what the point was.
For real, if this film had just been Michaela Coel going for kebabs with various characters, I probably would have been way more into it.
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