Not to be dramatic, but Modern Life is Rubbish is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. Not that I seek out bad films like someone with a death wish, but I’ve done my time – I saw Grace of Monaco, Assassin’s Creed and Dracula Untold. I even saw The Do-Over (feel free to thank me for my service), but this, quite possibly, tops them all.
Making its world premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival, lead actor Josh Whitehouse told us that he hoped we enjoyed watching it as much as he enjoyed making it. I’m struggling to work out if that was a genuine sentiment or a coded cry for help, but I would fear for the life of anyone who had the same experience on set as I had in that theatre.
Set in London over the course of a poorly defined ten years, the film flashes backwards and forwards through the relationship between Liam and Natalie, a twenty-something couple, both of whom are missing that one key ingredient – a personality.
Although, to be fair, there are a few descriptors I could apply to Liam, none of which would be fit to repeat in polite company. I’ll say this about him – he loves his music, and god help you if you own an iPod. He tends to his extensive collection of physical media with the preciousness of an overprotective parent. One might almost think that the whole film was just an excuse for director Daniel Jerome Gill to show off his record collection.
As Natalie, Freya Mavor is less of an actress than a victim. The couple’s meet-cute in a record store sees Liam lecturing Natalie on why she shouldn’t buy(it’s cheating, apparently), in an epic feat of terrible writing that seems to directly challenge its audience: if you thought that Ryan Gosling mansplained jazz, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Natalie shuts him down a few times, and the film seems to think that’s enough – yet she still falls for him, despite his complete lack of redeeming qualities (except looking a bit like if Harry Styles tried to grow facial hair, if you consider that a positive). He acts awfully to her throughout, to the point that the film would work better as a dark drama exploring one woman’s crushingly low sense of self worth.
But Modern Life is Rubbish sees itself as a cute rom-com, peppered with awful indie rock and quirky “humour”.
I watched most of from behind my fingers, needing that barrier as a shield against the full force of the horror playing out onscreen.
Some films are bad because they’re mind-numbingly dull – see Guy Ritchie’s recent King Arthur – but then there are those bad films that are just so baffling that they have to be seen to be believed.
It’s not that I’d recommend Modern Life is Rubbish – I lost enough of my self respect actually watching the thing – but it’s something to be gawked at. Almost like a parody of a man who can’t write women, it’s also a handy guide of avoidance, containing almost every single cliché that we’re always chastising filmmakers away from.
It’s not a particularly long film, numerically speaking, but mentally it drags on into an endless abyss of dark despair. By the end, I felt like Dr. Dave Bowman watching the universe unfold before him at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, only this time the stream of garish flashing lights were coming from one of Liam’s concerts – in which he plays his “music” (which is brilliant, apparently) – instead of the infinity of space and time. Nevertheless, the immensity of both experiences are pretty much the same. Modern Life is Rubbish is titanically terrible, with the deal being sealed when it dares to end in the way that it does. It’s… rubbish.
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