Yikes! Even in the box-office doldrums of the 70’s, British cinema still had plenty of big hits, albeit often cringe-worthy sex comedies. Fast forward to 2022, and there’s precious few British films that get the chance to chime with audiences; even given the proof of concept that a tv hit might provide, it’s hard to see why Catherine Tate’s Nan character might have been seen as worth a movie of her own. The punch-line is that The Nan Movie is a shockingly poor piece of work, a damp squib in cinemas now transitioning to streaming to attract the unwary.
Directed by Mary Queen of Scots director Josie O’Rourke in what must be one of the largest step-downs in cinematic history, The Nan Movie has been delayed and subject to revisions that saw O’Rourke’s name removed from the credits and replaced with; well, no-one, since there’s no director’s credit here. A thin narrative is constructed about the combative Nan (Tate) and her grandson Jamie (Mathew Horne) travelling to Liverpool and then Ireland to visit a dying friend Nell (Katherine Parkinson). That’s the plot, but there’s regular trips back to British cinema’s obsession with WWII, where Nan and Nell fight over a hunky US GI, a feud that continues for decades until the action of this film begins. Apparently, these flashbacks used to be the main spine of the film, but producers feared that this wasn’t what their target audience wanted, so the modern-day story was beefed up with drug-fuelled parties, awful Robin Williams-style prop comedy and cheap-looking animated sequences that bluntly stitch the story together.
‘He was obsessed with my a**ehole,’ laments Nan as she thinks back to a previous lover; that’s the level of the comedy here, which is unrelentingly crude, mean-spirited and aggressively tatty; Nan is transported in a mini-bus with Crafts Undo Negative Thinking, so that every time the door opens, a four-letter word appears on screen. Parkinson is one of the UK’s comic treasures, an inspired choice for the role of Jen in The IT Crowd, and it’s painful to see her brought down to this level, but there can be no winners when the bar is set so low.
The number of British films screened in cinemas seems to have reached an all-time low, but The Nan Movie isn’t going to save anything. Aside from ironists like myself, lured to gawk at the pile-up here, it’s hard to imagine who would watch or enjoy this. And at the centre of the problem is Nan herself; a miserable hedonist that’s hard to fathom other than an excuse for stereotyping. A black man is described as ‘Al Jolson’, a lesbian is labelled as KD Lang. Not only are these references so wildly out of date as to have mere historical interest, they’re also genuinely offensive when shorn of any context other than just Nan’s habit of name-calling. The one star here is for the music choices; at least the music supervisor got the right tone, with the inclusion of Frank Stallone’s epic anthem Far from Over the sole redeeming point here.