Nuts in May

Nuts in May

D: Mike Leigh (1976); with Roger Sloman, Alison Stedman, Stephen Bill, Sheila Kelley, Anthony O'Donnell.

Keith (Sloman) is one of the most maddeningly anal-retentive people on the planet. Along with his girlfriend Candace Ann (Stedman), he's on holiday in the British countryside; they polish their Doc Martens diligently before going on an afternoon hike. Keith has every stop, every activity, and every side trip on their vacation mapped out and written on a timetable. The two are strict vegetarians and have their dinners planned out well in advance. Together, their idea of fun on vacation is to explore a local quarry for fossils, while Keith prattles on endlessly about their finds. Their tent is pitched neatly next to their Morris Minor (though they're in the country, he locks and unlocks the car whenever he needs something from it) with everything in the campsite letter-perfect.Their idyll of a vacation spot is shattered when Ray (O'Donnell) pitches a tent 20 or so yards away and turns up his radio. Ray doesn't take well to Keith's requests to turn it back down again, and Keith doesn't appreciate it when the sweet but dim Candace Ann takes a liking to Ray. Things go from bad to worse when a couple of rough characters, Finger (Bill) and his girlfriend Honky (Kelley), blow into the campsite on their motorcycle. The two (a weird hybrid of bikers and glam rockers) buddy up to Ray, further antagonizing Keith; the threesome then go to a local pub, get a load on, come back, and make noise at the campsite. The friction between Keith and Finger comes to a boiling point the next day when Finger builds a fire against park regulations. Leigh takes an observant approach to this character-driven comedy, originally made for BBC-TV. In typical Mike Leigh fashion, it progresses from slow, bone-dry comedy to an uneasy degree of tension by the movie's end. The real centerpiece, though, is the performance of Sloman as Keith, an insufferably irritating character with a deeply contradictory nature. He's a stuffy British pseudo-intellectual who's also a hippie-come-lately, but his pacifist do-gooder veneer falls apart quickly enough; after his ugly confrontation with Finger, Keith runs off crying like a little girl! Candace Ann, on the other hand, is the perfect match for Keith. Her drippy personality bends to his every whim and caters to the petty, tyrannical side of his nature. The film's most unforgettable scene, though, is when the couple invites Ray over to their campsite in an attempt to make friends. After lecturing their poor captive on the evils of meat, they drag out their banjo and acoustic guitar and play a horrible folk song that they wrote about a trip to the zoo. They insist that the personality-impaired Ray sing along, while he looks more and more uncomfortable, mightily resisting the urge to seize Keith's banjo and demolish it over his head. It's a scene of such embarrassing, stupefying banality that it's hard not to feel sorry for everyone involved -- the pitiable Ray for being there, and Keith and Candace Ann for being so boorish. This is an often excruciating film to watch, filled with unlikable characters and dreadful, awkward situations. At the same time, it's got great performances all around and is a first step toward understanding a certain aspect of the British nature.

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