”Still Crazy”

It happens to everyone from time to time. You’re walking up and down the aisles of the video store, hoping that someone just returned a copy of the hot new release and the stockboy is going to put it back on the shelf. Sometimes, you get lucky, instead of standing around like an idiot waiting for a copy of the latest crapfest from Jerry Bruckheimer, why not grab one of those movies people have told you to see but you never remember once you’re actually marching up and down the new rentals section of Ballbuster. In fact, why not make a list right now of all those films. And put this one on the very top…

In the early 1970s, Strange Fruit was a second tier Yes. One of those English art-rock bands on the fringe of major mainstream success, but never quite able to hit it big. Their lead singer dies, his guitarist brother goes crazy, the new lead singer is a poseur and the band calls it quits after their set at a huge outdoor rock festival is cut short due to a lightning storm.

Twenty years later, keyboardist Tony Costello (Stephen Rea) has the corner on the condom vending machine industry in one idyllic English coastal town when he runs into the son of the promoter who ran that festival. The son is going to have an anniversary show at the same site and wants to have the Fruits there. Tony decides to rustle the gang back together, none who have seen or spoken to each other since that fateful evening, to make a go of it.

Tony starts with Karen (Juliet Aubrey), the band’s manager in those days, who is now working for a hotel. Then Tony visits Les (Jimmy Nail), the bassist who now owns a roofing company, then drummer Beano (Timothy Spall), who now lives in a small trailer on his mum’s front lawn and works at a greenery, and finally Ray (Bill Nighy), the singer who came into the group after the original leader Keith died of a drug overdose and has seen little success as a solo artist in the meantime. All are weary at first, but eventually see the possibilities of grabbing the spotlight which eluded them so many years before.

After getting their roadie Hughie (Billy Connelly) back into the fold, the guys discover Brian, their guitarist and resident genius, followed his brother Keith in death as a drug casualty. After hiring a hot shot young guitarist, the band hits the road in preparation of their big show…

That is the setup, and all I’m going to tell you about the film. How the films comes to its mostly satisfying ending has a lot of easy to spot moments, but is always enjoyable to watch. The script, from Dick Clement and Ian LaFrenias (the chaps who adapted “The Commitments” for the screen), is liberally sprinkled with all that post-hippie mysticism which is meant to mean something to the band members but played for laughs for the viewer. The story holds up quite well, moving the story on at a natural pace without over-plotting.

What should get you, however, is the music. Written especially for the movie, and performed on the soundtrack by several of Britain’s best, the songs are new but perfectly invoke the style of the era. Three songs in particular you will remember: “What Might Have Been,” “All Over The World” and “The Flame Still Burns.” The latter song was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Song in 1998, along with the film getting a nod for Best Musical or Comedy film.

The film will not end the arms race, feed the hungry or decrease gas prices. But it should make you laugh often and loudly, and have your toes tapping.

Edward’s Rating: 9 out of 10

The MPAA gave “Still Crazy” an R rating for language, sexuality and drug content.

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