Carl Hunter (director)
1h 31mins (length)
13 June 2019 (released)
19 June 2019
Billed as a "comedy, drama, mystery", cinemagoers may expect more from this gentle (very gentle) tale of a dad looking for a son who disappeared many years ago.
Bill Nighy ditches the soft southern English drawl we know and love him for in favour of a northern vernacular in this Merseyside-set feature. He plays Alan, a tailor with a love of words, stemming from his serious Scrabble skills, who’s been doggedly searching for the son that walked out of the family home decades before.
His second son Peter (Sam Riley) joins him for an overnight trip to visit a morgue out of town after an unidentified body is found. It’s clear the relationship is fractured, though not altogether ruined, and the night away – something Alan was angling for whereas Peter was against – serves as the start of a new chapter for their father-son bond.
Turning up at Peter’s home after their morgue visit, Alan decides to temporarily, and with no explanation, move in with his son’s family. Sharing a room, and bunkbed, with grandson Jack (Louis Healy), it’s not long before the computer competent pensioner takes an interest in the teenager’s gaming obsession and begins playing Scrabble online. One player soon catches his attention, and this online chance encounter sets Alan off on a fresh path to find his missing boy.
Subplots include two love affairs; one involving Alan and one concerning Jack, as well as Jack getting a dapper makeover courtesy of his tailor grandfather – the title refers to the way the three buttons on a suit should be fastened.
Carl Hunter’s feature film debut works better on reflection than when you’re sitting watching it. The entire cast put in strong performances, but the slow-burning stories seems to just chug along, going nowhere fast, for the majority of the 91-minute runtime.
Hunter adds quite a few quirky, almost Wes Anderson-style, touches, like the Scrabble showdown between Alan and two fellow hotel guests, played by Jenny Agutter and Tim McInnerny, which are enjoyable, and there are moments of genuine wit in Frank Cottrell Boyce’s script. However, some scenes try too hard or come with little explanation, giving the feature a student film feel. The first half also felt like a play rather than a movie.
The gentle pace never pulls the viewer in, meaning the themes, which are subtly woven in, get lost. And just like Alan’s missing son, lost they’ll stay unless you’re willing to pick back over the film after you’ve left the cinema. It is worth giving it a once over in your mind after the credits roll as it’s then you’ll grasp how Alan may be a word master, but he severely lacks the communication skills needed when it comes to bonding with the family he still has left.
Is it enjoyable? Sometimes. Is Bill Nighy on great form? Always. Is it a cinematic classic? Never.