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'The Low Down': Of Real Life & Art

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 20, 2001


    'The Low Down' Kate Ashfield and Aidan Gillen in "The Low Down." (Allastair Payne)
Ah, the young creatives. So sensitive! So tormented! So neurotic! So damned beautiful, so damned damned!

That's the lowdown that "The Low Down" gives you, in spades. It's a kind of group portrait of a batch of fabu painters and graphic designers in today's London, dealing with issues such as how yellow should the skin tone be on the big hand that John is sculpting, will Mike ever persuade an actual woman to sleep with him, and should Frank ever have to grow up?

The movie, a well-acted first effort written and directed by Jamie Thraves (a one-time art student from London, no surprise), primarily follows Frank, because he's the handsomest of a lot of would-be painters who brush out a living in a prop shop that supplies absurd creations – like the giant yellow hand – to TV quiz shows. Each of these young men would be doing more serious things if he had the nerve (or possibly the talent), but here the money is good enough, the comradeship extremely pleasant, the beer warm and toasty in the English fashion. So on they go, partying the night, and their lives, away.

Frank (Aidan Gillen) has begun to see through this, and wonders if there isn't more. Thus it's with a good deal of trepidation that he sets meekly about to make changes in his life. He understands, the director understands, and we understand that these changes, though small, are mighty in symbolic terms. Frank makes a tentative stab at changing flats – he's frightened of the crack addicts who hang outside his all night – and in so doing meets Ruby (Kate Ashfield), a sensible girl who isn't artistic at all; in fact, she's a real estate agent.

They begin having a thing, which inevitably begins to take him away from the set. Yes, this is another English dramedy about the demands of friendship, but it's in a far more realist key than the posh, slick Hugh Grant films. It also has a sort of clumsy, inarticulate, real-life feel, where the Grant series featured brilliantly crafted, witty lines. You would laugh a lot more if Grant and his people were involved in this film, but you believe more intently in Gillen and Ashfield.

"The Low Down" (94 minutes) is not rated but contains sexual imagery.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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