Give the 2004 Canadian indie It’s All Gone, Pete Tong credit for ambition, if nothing else. This is a film which aims to be a Spinal Tap for electronic music, to carry an anti-drug message as graphic as anything in Requiem for a Dream, and to tell an overcoming-the-odds story as heartwarming as Rudy. Problem is, those are three wildly disparate films I just named, and combinig them all into one picture makes for a decidedly strange experience.
The movie’s title is cockney rhyming slang, intending to recall the phrase “it’s all gone wrong” while also name-dropping BBC radio DJ Pete Tong. The film purports to be a documentary about Frankie Wilde (Paul Kaye), who is one of the world’s most famous DJs until he loses his hearing while working on his newest album.
The film pulls out all of the stops in an attempt to convince audiences of its reality, including the use of a “based on a true story” title card and the presence of several famous real-life DJs (including Tong himself) as talking heads in the documentary-style interviews. Of course, it’s all for show; the film is fiction and its creators have never pretended it was anything else. That’s not to say it’s impossible that there’s a DJ out there somewhere who went deaf and made a comeback, but if that DJ exists, this film is not intended to tell his story.
Or maybe the better word is “stories.” It’s All Gone Pete Tong seems to be three or four movies, sometimes within the same scene. The comedy in particular is so in debt to Spinal Tap that it will be impossible to think of any other comparison while you are watching it, but that comedy will often be interspersed with some bracingly dark material about Frankie’s drug addiction and inability to cope with the loss of his hearing. Frankie’s drug addiction seems to be symbolized by a man in a giant badger suit, Donnie Darko as remade by DARE. At one point Frankie has isolated himself so much, wallowing around in his own filth and what-not, that when the sequence ends in an ill-conceived suicide attempt it’s near impossible to believe that you’re laughing at it.
The main separation from this film and Spinal Tap is that the direction here is far more flashy than anything Rob Reiner ever conceived of. On balance, that’s a good thing, because techno music is a different beast than heavy metal and demands a different style. However, the stylizing keeps coming to the point of being excessive; the first time that director Michael Dowse (who also wrote the film) gradually drops out the background sound in order to illustrate Frankie’s deafness, it’s effective, but by the fifth or sixth time it becomes tiresome.
This film’s main weapon is comedy, so it’s a major surprise when it becomes almost painfully earnest in the final act, as Frankie learns to live as a deaf man. The love affair which spurs him on is romantic and sincere to a degree that the characters in the first half-hour of this film would find unthinkable. At one point early in the movie we see one of Frankie’s hit videos from his pre-deaf era, and it’s a superb parody of pretentious music videos. Contrast with the scene in which Frankie and his lip-reading teacher first make love: any ego on the part of either character, or the director, seems to have been destroyed.
Like a lot of Hollywood comedies which have pretensions toward a major message, It’s All Gone Pete Tong can’t really be serious and funny at the same time. The only character in the film who stays funny throughout is the scummy American lawyer Max Haggar (Mike Wilmot), and even he is a little more dramatic by the end. He’s used to set up an ending wherein Frankie must not only triumph over the odds and find true love, but also remain purer than pure and truer to his music than anybody else in his industry. It’s an ending in line with the rest of this film: it was doing fine just being funny, but it wants to deliver everything. It delivers laughs, but the rest doesn’t come so easy.
Reviewed by Mark Young
- Although there are an awful lot of Englishmen (and Englishwomen) in this film, it is in fact a Canadian prodcution. ↩