Booked Out is a sweet but small-scale movie that was always going to have difficulty finding large-scale distribution, and so it’s going with a rather charming DIY-feeling release strategy, with a DVD & Blu-ray release on Monday, alongside a cinema tour with accompanying Q&As all over the country between now and mid-April (you can find out more about that here).
The film follows artist and bookstore worker Ailidh (Mirren Burke), who’s seen a young man coming and going from another one of the flats in her building and so she manufactures a way of meeting him – by acting as if she’s accidentally dropped all her drawings on him. The man turns out to be Jacob (Rollo Weekes), and soon a friendship develops between the two of them, partly due to Ailidh drawing Jacob into helping her with fellow neighbour Mrs. Nicholls, whose husband died several years before, although she still acts as if he’s alive, well and in the house.
Friendship soon starts to morph into something more, but who is the quiet, seemingly depressed woman who lives in the flat opposite Ailidh, who Jacob is constantly going to visit?
The first film from Bryan O’Neil, Booked Out has wit, charm and manages to be quirky without feeling like it’s trying too hard. Rollo Weeks (I didn’t know there were actual people called Rollo, and not just animated kings) and Mirren Burke make a charming central couple, and Sylvia Syms is always good value for money as the slightly nutty but very nice Mrs. Nicholls. Each of the main character looks for happiness while dealing with the difficulties of real life, with the film touching on this in ways that feel surprisingly honest.
The inexperience of the cast and crew does sometimes show through though, particularly in moments where people act in ways that don’t seem natural and where the need for the cast to try and add meaning to what they’re saying results in things seeming slightly staged. It’s not a huge issue and merely momentarily throws you out of the movie. It’s something that often happens early in the careers of actors and directors, where their experience of trying to make the most of a scene while shooting it overpowers the moment as the viewer experiences it. It also feels that while for the vast majority of the time the film has a good handle on the fact cinema is a visual medium (something that’s actually quite rare for a first time writer/director), a couple of the more dramatic moments are overly reliant on words, which results in them lacking the impact they might otherwise have had. However, other than this O’Neill acquits himself extremely well and is someone to watch out for in the future.
It’s a small film, telling an intimate, personal story about four people who don’t quite conform to the average world. That’s not something that’s going to excite mainstream audiences. It is a problem, as currently in the UK it’s only a very limited type of independent British film that gets released – generally period drama, insanely angsty kitchen-sink dramas and anything gangster & violence related. You can partly see why, as a movie like Booked Out is a tough sell and even with the best will in the world, it’s never going to have a vast audience. However, hopefully things like digital distribution will make it easier to give films like this niche releases where the filmmakers themselves will be able to take it out and try to find an audience, without it costing millions.
Booked Out certainly has charm, with a look at the lives of young people that doesn’t feel a desperate need to be cool, drug-fuelled and over-the-top, as we’ve become used to in this sort of thing. The movie’s small scale may limit its appeal, but it certainly deserves a wider audience than it’s likely to get.
Overall Verdict: A small-scale British film with charm and wit, which may never set the world on fire, but has a nice take on life, love and happiness for normal people in the 21st Century.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac