Ewan Gleadow

Movie Review: The Souvenir

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Copyright: A24

Good art and creativity come at the cost of uneventful, predictable storytelling. They shouldn’t, but that is the case in far too many products sadly. While Joanna Hogg’s efforts cannot go without praise, The Souvenir has the script and handiwork of a student film. A storyline that does not move beyond the caffeine-powered first draft of a frenzied student looking to hit their deadline. This, inevitably, destroys any real worth or interest The Souvenir may have, because, for all its intricacies and unconventionally independent directing styles, it can never move past a script that feels weak, uneventful, and truly disengaged from reality. 

Most of these issues are found in the leading characters. They are neither of interest nor harmful enough to hate. They meander and fumble their way through varyingly bland lives, surrounding themselves with equally unimportant, similar-minded individuals. A shy art student that falls for the unconvincing older man, the narrative can go nowhere but down. It toils in its misery rather well; it is abject and overwhelms much of the quality found elsewhere. This quality is never in abundance, but the sense of good standards can be found in pockets throughout. Drowned out by clumsy themes and miserably filtered direction, The Souvenir can’t get to grips with its story well enough. 

Even if it had presented its story with clarity and movement, it would be difficult to pick out a point of true, emotional engagement. Hogg feels disconnected from this, her artistic flair and clear eye for design and production takes centre stage, towering over the bland, predictable storyline. Pockets of the story do shine through, Tom Burke and Honor Swinton Byrne make up the leading pair, an expected level of chemistry that doesn’t take them any further than the script can handle. Relatively mediocre in that regard, the two can’t make heads or tails of such a simple theme. It is not their fault though, the theme is a happenstance inclusion that does nothing for the narrative aside from propel these characters toward and away from each other, the crashing oceans of their lives overlapping with relatively muted effect.  

Perhaps it smacks a tad offensive when you have middle-class, southern liberal artists trying to “understand” or “convey the emotion” of the north. Hogg and her cast are self-righteous, however briefly, on this matter. Eventually it spins away from filmmaking into the underworld of addictive personalities, both to love and illegal supplements. Both are as unconvincing and banal as the other, never addressing the core of its problems. A film that features addiction yet is not up to the task of analysing or understanding it in any meaningful way. When you wish to criticise the arts and modern days of filmmaking tropes, it is useful to consider that your project may show those same weak points.