Friday, October 3, 2008

Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise

Timothy Spall and Michael Begley 
Timonty Spall steals the show in Danny Boyle's subversive black comedy 

Sometimes the most interesting little movies turn out to be the ones you've never heard of. We've all seen them in video stores: those obscure titles that nobody rents, collecting dust in odd corners of the store, as if the staff weren't sure where to put them. 
Perhaps you've even rented a few, only to discover why you've never heard of them (they suck?).

On rare occasions you'll find an unexpected gem such as Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise (2001), a savagely funny BBC movie from Trainspotting director Danny Boyle.

I didn't know what to expect from the movie. The title had the off-putting ring of one of those smarmy, hipper-than-thou black comedies that tries to be too clever for its own good--such as Boyle's previous Shallow Grave (1994)--besides which the last thing I wanted to see was a Full Monty knockoff with vacuum cleaner salesmen. 

Spall and Begley
Fortunately, movies, like books, can't always be told by their covers. 

Michael Begley plays Pete, a blissfully under-ambitious lad whose stripper girlfriend, Sheila (Katy Cavanagh) refuses to have sex with him until he gets a job. He immediately hires on as a vacuum cleaner salesman, and for training purposes is partnered with a supernaturally obnoxious creature named Tommy Rag, played by Timothy Spall (Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter films) as a sort of oversexed Freddie Jones with rabies. 

One of the movie's many lunatic highlights occurs when the chain-smoking Tommy slaps a "motivational tape" into the player of his car in order to get himself ratcheted up for another day of predatory door-to-door salesmanship. The tape, which he has made himself, consists of grinding punk rock, punctuated by Rag screaming "Sell! Fucking sell!"

Aside from making us laugh, Boyle shows the extent to which good material is capable of transcending its medium. Shooting on grainy, low-resolution video, using practical locations and little or no artificial lighting, Boyle has created a brisk, surprisingly cinematic little movie packed with more undiluted entertainment value than many Hollywood "comedies" with a hundred times the budget (Observe and Report, anyone?).

The real showstopper, though, is Timothy Spall, whose bravura, BAFTA-nominated performance is the most hilariously abrasive invention since Christopher Hitchens. In spite of Tommy's outrageousness, Spall invests the character with enough oblique humanity to render the ending surprisingly affecting. We may not care to be stuck in a car with Tommy Rag, but by the end of the movie, we're sad to see him go. 

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