Surfacing without warning on Amazon Prime, Bill Forsyth’s Comfort and Joy has something of a mixed reputation. Critics and audiences perceived this as a come-down after Forsyth’s celebrated trifecta of That Sinking Feeling, Gregory’s Girl and Local Hero, although it bears a similar setting and pawky humour to the previous films. But many remain in thrall to Forsyth’s warm brand of humanism, and Comfort and Joy should be recommended to anyone interested in Scotland on film.
Radio DJ Dickie Bird (Bill Paterson) is recovering from the loss of his partner Maddy (Eleanor David) who has walked out on him, taking pretty much all his possessions. A local celebrity, Bird finds it hard to admit the failure of his relationship, and recasts himself as an investigative journalist, an intermediary between two warring factions of Glasgow’s ice cream wars. These trade disputes were a real and violent thing, but Comfort and Joy fictionalises them to provide a slight, comic narrative; any story resolved by a recipe for ice-cream fritters can only be aiming for whimsy.
And yet Glasgow whimsy is a hardy brand; there’s some great comic scenes as a masked assailant puts down his weapon when he recognises Bird’s celebrity and urgently makes a request for a dedication for his mother. ‘Do you have any Mantovani or Dean Martin?’ he asks as the police-sirens close in. The offices of the then-popular Radio Clyde are a central location, and there’s great moody coverage of Bird’s BMW traversing Glasgow’s motorway system; Mark Knopfler’s score isn’t as iconic as his Local Hero work, but it still conjures up a sense of melancholy.
There’s also a few telling gags; one involves Forsyth’s regular debunking of psychiatry, with both his boss and his shrink laying claim to the same motivational anecdotes. And a gag about a look-alikes competition pays off when it turns out that Bird’s dentist is the spitting image of George C Scott. Forsyth chose a local story here when he was expected to go Hollywood; he came a cropper when he crafted star vehicles for Burt Reynolds and Robin Williams. But Comfort and Joy revels in parochial detail, and skewers the difference between Hollywood and Glasgow; like the central character, Forsyth’s film is thin, wan and likeably down-trodden.