Farce, flair and fatalities, in a humorous and heartfelt tale of loss
Paul Dood works in a thrift store, but his aspirations go beyond second-hand retail. As a dancer, singer, and all-around entertainer–or so he believes–he hones his craft under the watchful eye of his biggest fan, his mum. After years of aspiration, he’s finally secured a chance at the big time with a spot on Trend Ladder, an online based national talent competition aimed to launch people into the limelight. A mix-up of dates leads to Paul and his mother scrambling to make the audition, their plans are further hampered by the egotistical actions and inactions of a series of people they encounter along the way. Arriving late, he is allowed to perform, but his act is cut short. A brutal rejection by presenter Jack Tapp and ensuing heartbreak is compounded by a tragic incident that occurs soon after. Something snaps in Paul, and in the days that follow he concocts a plan to mete out justice to those who ruined his chance, five selfish souls who need to meet their end. Donning his sparkly jumpsuit, armed with a harness mounted phone streaming his antics to his escalating fanbase, he crisscrosses his sleepy little town to enact his plan, he just had to try and fit his scheme into his lunch break.
After a cute and quirky introduction to this mother/son dynamic, and their shared delusions of grandeur, the film moves into a comedy of errors, with obstacles, frustrating and farcical in nature, hindering their pursuit of stardom. Eventually Paul Dood firmly plants itself into a blackly comedic affair as a growing online audience cheer on Paul’s efforts while the police watch aghast as they try to intervene. The humorous elements are balanced well against the emotional journey Paul undertakes and a lot of what works is due to the early investment in the nurturing relationship between a mother and son. This is not a revenge movie per se, despite some wonderful pops (literally) of gruesome fare. Instead, it’s a processing of grief for Paul, as he haplessly tries to enact his plans, with some unexpected results.
About half-way through Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break, we glimpse a sign in a playground that tells people to “report anti-social behavior.” Intervene if you witness actions that that harm or lack consideration for the well-being of others. That’s the film in a nutshell. A crucial call for kindness in this increasingly connected and yet detached digital age. Our social and political environments have become more polarized, and little thought is given by some to the consequence of casual cruelty. For Paul, an endearing optimist and, one fateful afternoon strips away his dreams and support network, brutally exposes his failures, and makes him aware of the disparagement to which he has been, and continues to be subjected. The film does a great job of highlighting social media and its power to break someone down or embolden them, the latter feeding into a finale that feels celebratory and uplifting in its affirmation.
It’s a heartfelt and sympathetic performance from Tom Meeten, one that the sets the timbre for the whole film. Other standouts include Steve Oram (Sightseers) as a dickish railway platform assistant, Johnny Vegas (Early Man) as a Japanese tea room proprietor (and cultural appropriator), and Kevin Bishop as the acerbic American Jack Tapp. They’re admirably supported by a host of familiar faces from British/Irish comedy, including Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd), Mandeep Dhillon (After Life), Kris Marshall (Love Actually), and Alice Lowe (Prevenge). It’s a cast that helps develop the comedic tone of the film, one set by director Nick Gillespie (Tank 432). A black comedic vibe undoubtedly informed by his previous work with Ben Wheatley on A Field In England, Sightseers, and High-Rise. He crafts a film that feels intimate and small scale, but with a bigger message that resonates, one that leans into schmaltzy without losing sincerity, staying honest to the truth behind this man’s pain. The “One lunch break, five spectacular murders!” tagline will draw in a lot of people, and while the film certainly delivers on that humorous and quirky concept; combining farce, flair and fatalities, it’s wrapped around a heartfelt tale of loss. At its core, Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break is a call to be a little kinder, after all, you never know whose path you will cross and life you will impact.