Raindance Film Festival – Review – Lucky Stiff – ★★★

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Musicals are a rare thing in cinema nowadays, so if you need your fix, you better go and see the latest film by Christopher Ashley, Lucky Stiff, based on the cult musical by the same name. Starring Dominic Marsh, Nikki M. James and Pamela Shaw, it feels like a time-capsule to a cinema before recession, terrorist attacks and Fappenings. In sum, a pearl of pure escapism, with vibrant colors, funny music numbers and loads of romance.

Harry Witherspoon (Marsh) works as a shoe seller in grim 70s London, having no chance to see any adventure or fun in his humdrum life. But when his rich American uncle Anthony dies, leaving him 6 million dollars, Harry sees the escape he’s been hoping for his entire life. One catch though – to qualify for the money, Harry will have to fulfill his uncle’s last wish – to be taken to Montecarlo and have fun. Yes. As a corpse. But while in Montecarlo, other competitors appear: Anthony’s nearly blind girlfriend Rita (Pamela Shaw) and dog lover, people hater Annabel (Nikki James). Hilarity ensues, while Harry fights to keep everyone unaware of his uncle’s true condition, Annabel realizes there may be something more to life than dogs and Rita tries to shoot everyone without wearing her glasses.

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This Weekend at Bernies with music comedy is a fun, delightful film, not afraid of going to the extreme caricature to get a few extra giggles. Some sequences on the film, namely the expressionist nightmare and the landlady kitchen’s scene, are done to Busby Berkeley level. The use of animation by the film, either as a scene connector, flashback or just for fun as in the “Dogs Vs. You” musical number, gives it a quirky touch that brings to mind The Pink Panther, an influence that Ashley does admit. Pamela Shaw blinds everyone (pun intended) with her extravagant performance, and she’s the funniest character by far, diving right in all the madness – something that comes probably from the fact she did play Rita on the stage version. 

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Despite the number of theatre people involved in the project, the story works incredibly well on the screen, and doesn’t feel too staged or woody. Being a pastiche, however, is at the same time the biggest strength and weakness of Lucky Stiff. If it is always good to have a bubble bath of escapism once in a while, the film doesn’t add much to the musical genre, something that came always to be expected from a new genre film. The joy and the colours are there, but the originality voice is somewhat lost under covers of saturation and songs. Still, there’s nothing wrong with a good bubble bath if one wants one, and Lucky Stiff is a very nice one for that matter.

Sara is originally from Coimbra, Portugal, where she studied Film Studies before moving to London to enrol in film school. Having made her first short film about her neighbour's chickens when she was 9 (a dystopian sci-fi, still her favourite genre), she is now a London-based film director and editor, and also a writer for the Portuguese Take Magazine. She is a huge fan of Lars Von Trier, Krysztof Kiéslowski, and David Lean.