Film reviews: Our Ladies | The Nest | Vacation Friends | The Last Bus | Demonic

Michael Caton-Jones’s long-awaited adaptation of Alan Warner’s novel The Sopranos has its flaws, writes Alistair Harkness, but its vibrant cast of up-and-comers perfectly capture their characters’ infectious joie de vivre

Tallulah Greive, Sally Messham, Abigal Lawrie, Rona Morison and Marli Siu in Our Ladies.
Tallulah Greive, Sally Messham, Abigal Lawrie, Rona Morison and Marli Siu in Our Ladies.

Our Ladies (15) ***

The Last Bus (12A) **

The Nest (15) ****

Vacation Friends (16+) ***

Demonic (18) **

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Having been delayed by the pandemic, Our Ladies finally arrives on the big screen as even more of a period piece than it was when director Michael Caton-Jones premiered it at the 2019 London Film Festival. Back then, the Rob Roy director joked that this adaptation of Alan Warner’s 1998 cult novel The Sopranos started out as a contemporary coming-of-age comedy, but he wasn’t able to get this raucous tale about group of Catholic choir girls on a vodka-fuelled odyssey to Edinburgh financed until the film industry belatedly woke up to the fact that women are under-represented on screen. Watching it in the current moment, though, the zeal with which these small-town girls embrace all that a bigger city has to offer has attained an unintentional layer of nostalgia: their carefree attitude to having a good time seems almost quaint after 18 months of social distancing and Covid cautiousness.

That zeal, though, remains the film’s strongest element, coming through thanks largely to Caton-Jones’s facility with young actors and the vibrant cast of up-and-comers he’s assembled to play the leads. Collectively and individually, Marli Siu, Eve Austin, Tallulah Greive, Abigail Lawrie, Sally Messham and Rona Morison imbue their characters’ brazen behaviour with a matter-of-fact vitality and believability that’s consistent with Warner’s prose-style. That’s important too because this is a much broader adaptation of his work than Lynne Ramsay’s artful adaptation of his debut novel, Morvern Callar. Closer in tone to a raunchy teen comedy that’s had its edges blunted by over-familiarity, some of the comic set-pieces do fall a little flat, especially the girls’ various encounters with lecherous men and one well-past-its-sell-by-date celebrity cameo. But some of it’s really funny too and, ultimately, there’s a sweetness to the way the film never loses sight of the girls’ joie de vivre.

Timothy Spall in The Last Bus

Staying in Scotland, The Last Bus stars Timothy Spall as Tom, an elderly widower on a bus pass-funded pilgrimage to Land’s End from his home in John O’ Groats. Essentially a mawkish knock-off of David Lynch’s The Straight Story, the film – which was directed by Gillies MacKinnon (who made the similarly soporific Whisky Galore! remake) – lays everything on a bit thick, be it the mystery of what’s in the suitcase Tom holds onto for dear life, the corny way he becomes a social media sensation, or indeed Spall’s own turn as the infirm pensioner haunted by his past and newly dependent on the kindness of strangers.

As an over-leveraged commodities broker who’s bought into the make-money-at-any-cost-ethos of the 1980s, Jude Law delivers a quietly tragic performance in The Nest, the latest from Martha Marcy May Marlene writer/director Sean Durkin. Law plays Rory O’Hara, a self-made man who convinces his American wife Allison (Carrie Coon) to uproot their lives in the US and return to London so he can set up his own trading division. Early conversational tension hints at why Allison might have misgivings about the move, but in the unenlightened spirit of the times she goes along with her husband, squirrelling away cash of her own the moment Rory moves her and her kids into a status-elevating country mansion, the costs of which he refuses to divulge. Working with a fairly low budget, Durkin teases out the intricacies of the boom-bust economic cycle of a country on the brink of deregulation via the ups-and-downs of Rory and Allison’s relationship, with Coon brilliant as the outsider unimpressed by the vicissitudes of the British class system and Law nailing the psychology of the fake-it-till-you-make-it “barrow boys” who fought their way onto stock-market trading floors just as Thatcher came to power.

An uptight couple (Lil Rel Howard and Anna Maria Horsford) find their impending nuptials railroaded by John Cena and Meredith Hagner’s live-for-the-moment holidaymakers in Vacation Friends, a funnier-than-this-premise suggests comedy that gets by on the goofball charm of its cast. Though headlined by Cena, it’s really a chance for Howard to step up to a leading role after excelling in best-friend parts in the likes of Get Out and current hit Free Guy. He plays Marcus, the sensible fiancé of the well-to-do Nancy (Horsford). Unsure about what really transpired on their accidentally debauched holiday together, his desire to get hitched without a hitch falls apart when Cena’s fun-loving Ron and his equally manic wife Kyla (Hagner) show up and insert themselves into the wedding party. Ron and Marcus accidentally tripping on magic mushrooms while the Beastie Boys plays on the soundtrack is a pretty good example of the unapologetically silly and likeable tone the film is going for.

After a couple of mega budget Hollywood failures and some high-profile stalled projects, District 9 director Neill Blomkamp gets back to his indie roots with Demonic, a sci-fi horror film that can’t escape the clichés implicit in its generic title. While a nifty set-up involving brain-hacking technology that enables infiltration of another person’s subconscious via a virtual reality simulation seems promising, it quickly devolves into a tech- and exposition-heavy demon-possession movie that leaves its more interesting ideas unexplored.

The Nest
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Our Ladies, The Last Bus and The Nest are in cinemas now; Vacation Friends is available to stream on Disney+; Demonic is on selected release and digital download.

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Meredith Hagner as Kyla, Yvonne Orji as Emily, Lil Rel Howery as Marcus and John Cena as Ron in Vacation Friends PIC: Jessica Miglio / © 2021 20th Century Studios