Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break
Caitlyn Downs tags along on Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break and finds something to savour amidst the chaos...s
Opening on the Margaret Atwood quote, ‘If we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged’, Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break (Nick Gillespie, 2021) joins the ranks of British comedy that trades as much in darkness as it does in laughs. The sheen that social media offers and the ugly reality it can obscure as people rush to make a name for themselves is a dominant concern, while also asking questions about who people are when no one they perceive as important is watching.
The titular Paul Dood (Tom Meeten) lives at home with his mother Julie (June Watson) and works at a charity shop, where he is frequently made into a figure of fun by colleague Bruce (Jarred Christmas). Paul and Julie cling to the idea that Paul will one day make it as a famous performer, spurred by social media application Trend Ladder. Early scenes between Paul and Julie introduce their relationship as supportive, both wanting the best and genuine enjoyment in being around one another. Other films would give in to the temptation to play this differently, to up their ‘weirdness’, but this treats them more gently – harmless hopefuls rather than deluded egotists. Fame is treated as a means of escape and a chance for them to reward one another for their loyalty. There is a sincerity to their relationship that isn’t played for laughs, which makes their interactions more affecting. It is the careful writing of some elements that arguably make some of the less effective moments more disappointing.
The scenes in the lead up to the audition may feel like an uphill struggle for some. The film sets up the disappointment as a foregone conclusion at the outset and your mileage will vary on how much humour you can find from the repeat disappointments that Paul and Julie encounter. There is a near-agonising journey that makes up the first act of the film in which the pair interact with numerous people intent on making Paul’s day more difficult. There were gags for me that became slightly lost in the overwhelming darkness of this section, but it certainly sets the stage for the duration of the film, allowing for a bit more lightness later as the revenge mission takes shape.
Paul Dood features numerous British comedy talents and if you have followed the scene for any length of time there are plenty of faces you will recognise here. Steve Oram, Johnny Vegas, Alice Lowe, Kris Marshall, Mandeep Dhillon, Katherine Parkinson and Kevin Bishop all feature in roles of various sizes. Steve Oram as a deeply unhelpful bureaucratic train worker provides a highlight early on that showcases the film’s ability to switch from the sublimely silly to gasp-worthy shocks within the blink of an eye. Vegas’ turn as a cultural appropriator with a temper did very little for me, but humour is so subjective, and you do get the impression that Vegas is doing his best to sell it. Kevin Bishop’s spoilt celebrity Jack Tapp feels like a familiar role for him, but one that he can do so well it is still enjoyable. Mandeep Dhillon proves a steady hand as Jane Miles, a PCSO brought into the chaos surrounding Dood. Parkinson is excellent in what is essentially a small, but important role as Clemmie, a cleaner at the shopping centre with a penchant for metal music and a fondness for Paul. June Watson is wonderful as excitable, supportive mother Julie, delivering a real warmth.
However good the supporting characters are, the film stands on the shoulders of Tom Meeten. Despite the need to switch tones and in some cases, go to some incredibly bleak places, the film finds an anchor in him. Somehow perfectly striking the balance between hitting the comic beats and providing a sense of empathy, it is difficult to imagine anyone else in the role. Game for the physical clowning required without sacrificing the emotional poignancy and sweetness necessary for the film to have that extra weight, Meeten makes it look effortless.
With the focus on the performances, it would be easy for director Nick Gillespie to keep things simple, but instead, he infuses a sense of style throughout. Some of this is out of necessity, utilising the chest rig of Paul’s live streaming phone camera to present the action (complete with comments pouring in), but others, like a slow-motion rain scene that also functions as a spiritual baptism and rebirth of sorts for Paul break with the film’s more grounded camera in a way that feels well-earned rather than just a stylistic choice. The effects here are excellent too, with injuries that are impactful and enjoyed in all their gory detail.
If you can withstand the discomfort of the film’s first act, Paul Dood rewards that endurance. While not every joke lands it makes up for it with genuine feeling and a central character that is easy to connect to, finding comedy amidst the tragedy in this very British revenge film.
Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break plays the Fantasia Film Festival 2021 running from the 5th to 25th August. Screenings are geo-locked to Canada and available on demand. Tickets and more information on the film are available here.