Sideshow

Written & Directed by Adam Oldroyd

UK/2022/94mins

Rating: 2 out of 5.

There’s something to be said for a cinematic experience in which national treasure Les Dennis defecates himself during an armed heist; it’s nothing good. British comedy Sideshow seems to consider itself a bit of a freak, separate from the mainstream, a ‘dark’ comedy that finds itself with a rather spectacular cast of capable actors. Drunk, offensive, scamming and Lamb Buna loving stage psychic Pendrick is far from a class act –though undoubtedly fun for Dennis to play, little can help to save this weak attempt at a contemporary British indie film from the needless offence, filth and watered-down scripting.

Despite the endless pleas of his disgruntled agent Gerald to aim not for the attractive women, but the tragic and desperate, Pendrick has a rather sleazy habit of seeking out those who finds attractive – rather than the quick buck. His heavy drinking, foul-mouth and abuse of his audiences, management, and theatres grow weary for Gerald, played by Anthony Head, but this is all his father’s talent agency has left – all the genuine performers chased out by the frauds and psychics.

But it isn’t only those looking to communicate with the departed who are watching, in the back of the theatre – a young woman observes as the vulgar fraud dribbles over the protruding chests of the front row. Eva (April Pearson) drags her doe-eyed and incompetent accomplice Dom to follow Pendrick, spotting an easy mark of their own. For one of them, this ramshackle flat filled with torn posters and trinkets of memorabilia may house some loose change – for the other, Pendrick’s humble abode may house something far more valuable than petty cash.

Swiftly moving from unenjoyable to bordering on painful, watching skilled actors attempting to lift Oldroyd’s scripting issues, there are gleams of something there – though you’ll be trudging through last night’s curry to get there. Particularly, Pearson draws from the potential of emotional development for the curious Eva, a crook with a seemingly noble cause, there are elements of distrust, where audiences become unsure if her sincerity is just as fake as Pendrick’s trickery.

Peppered throughout, breaking up the film are snippets of ‘chapter’ changes – dictionary definitions of keywords to segment and highlight a particular action or tone. A stylistic choice that may prove divisive for some, Oliver Kelly’s art direction and Stephen J. Brand’s cinematography does ease the pacing, and these snippets offer a more detailed insight into Oldroyd’s process – scraping the film back to its feet, a thought process evident, if ineffective.

Shockingly, there’s reason behind the film’s journey and bizarre setup which comes to a cataclysmic conclusion; both ingenious and touching – demonstrating the absolute waste of talent in all four performances from skilled British performers. It’s a wholly unexpected whack after a runtime of snivelling dialogue and childish gross-out humour that fails to become justified by the inevitable plot reveal. If you’re struggling to get past the feeling Oldroyd’s echoes a sub-par television sitcom, you’re not alone. There’s a tremendous attempt at dark humour à la surreal juggernaut The League of Gentleman.

Infamous character performances, both on stage and screen, the four-strong cast are let down tremendously by the mediocre ramblings of a televised pitch gone wrong. Sideshow pertains components which with further re-drafting, tidying and direction could have found something, but in harsh reality comes around five years too late to the contemporary scene to feel viable. Its morose humour skirts offence and falls flat at the feet of giants of British comedy. And even though Head and Clarke’s charm ripples through to the occasional funny scene, Sideshow is better left in the spiritual world outside of our vision.

 Sideshow will be coming to UK cinemas from March 11th & digital download March 28th. Book your tickets here: www.munrofilmservices.co.uk/movie/sideshow/

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