The Defiant Ones, by David Bax
A large chunk of the current indie rock sound is simply a regurgitation of synth-heavy techno-pop from the 1980’s. Perhaps it’s been grimed up a little or performed with a slightly ironic distance but the general formula is the same. Similarly, David Mackenzie’s Tonight You’re Mine is a pretty unimaginative high-concept romantic comedy like scores you seen before. But by paring down the aesthetics and setting the story at a three-day music festival, Mackenzie is hoping you won’t notice.
Adam (Luke Treadaway from Attack the Block) is one half of a popular American band called The Make. In the backstage area of Scotland’s T in the Park festival, where they are scheduled to perform the next night, Adam gets into an argument with Morello (Natalia Tena from multiple Harry Potter films and HBO’s Game of Thrones), the keyboard player for The Dirty Pinks, who are playing one of the festival’s smaller stages. In an attempt to force them to reconcile or something, I guess, a mysterious stranger played by Al Green (really) handcuffs them together and then walks away. The two spend most of the rest of the film bickering, explaining the awkward situations to their extant significant others and, inevitably, growing closer.
Perhaps Mackenzie (who made the quite good Young Adam back in 2003) is honestly intending to be clever and winking by decorating this lame premise with cool-kid accoutrements like hip music and cult-sexy actors like Treadaway and Tena. If so, it doesn’t come across. Instead, those additions and choices read like insulting attempts to force hoary romance platitudes into the faces of an audience who would typically avoid such films. And Al Green may be great but casting him in a “magical negro” role reduces the film’s credibility greatly.
To the film’s credit, though, Treadaway and Tena are indeed well cast. Both have a transfixing confidence and energy. They complement each other and their performances more than adequately capture the postures and cadences of now-ish twenty-somethings. Also exemplary in this category is Matthew Baynton as Adam’s bandmate, Tyko, who is often the film’s comic relief but is also quietly smarter and more sensitive than Adam.
Tonight You’re Mine was filmed at the actual T in the Park festival in 2010. The wet weather that weekend couldn’t have been too pleasant for the festival-goers but it suited Mackenzie’s purposes remarkably well. The bright lights of the stage and the neighboring amusement park are constantly contrasted with the mud-muted colors of the people below them. The result is like a dream brought down to earth, which would be an accurate way to describe the general feel of these kinds of events where like-minded people get to spend continuous days in a bubble of stimuli and acceptance.
If Mackenzie were making a long form commercial for T in the Park, he’d have succeeded wildly, at least for the first half or so, before the sturm und drang grinds into high gear. Divorced from the story, the long sequences of people dancing to good music, drinking and partying are propulsive and consuming. The lo-fi approach puts you there in the tents and on the ferris wheels along with the characters. The veracity of the surroundings (actual partiers and bands) is immediate.
Of course, that veracity also cuts the other way, casting harsh light on the falseness of the plot. Unfortunately, Tonight You’re Mine isn’t a documentary about a music festival. It’s a tired romantic comedy with a hackneyed premise that has to come along and stomp on all the fun.