PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

Wah-Wah (2005)

Matt Mazur

The genuinely cinematic moments in Wah-Wah are few and far between, and are generally courtesy of the skillful performances.


Wah-Wah

Director: Richard E. Grant
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Emily Watson, Gabriel Byrne, Miranda Richardson, Julie Walters
Distributor: Sony Pictures
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Sony Pictures
First date: 2005
US DVD Release Date: 2006-11-21

Written and directed by first-timer Richard E. Grant (who is, to be fair, a sharply talented actor and wit in his own right), Wah-Wah begins innocently enough but quickly devolves into a mess of clichés. Based on Grant's coming of age in '60s Swaziland as the country received its liberty from Great Britain, the uneven film enticed some of England's top-notch talent to sign on, so it is infinitely curious that the end product doesn't quite add up. While the film isn't exactly terrible, it is decidedly mediocre. Given such a potentially cinematic subject, this is a cardinal sin.

On the eve of the country's independence, meek young Ralph Compton (played as a child by Zachary Fox) is more concerned with the comings and goings of his volatile parents Harry and Lauren (Gabriel Byrne and Miranda Richardson, both unfortunately saddled with thin caricatures), who are just barely struggling to keep up appearances for the uptight British countrymen that seem to have nothing better to do than judge them. Mrs. Compton is a bit of a tart who is apparently so hard up for affection that she has sex with her married lover in the front seat of a car in full view of her young son (something that obviously affects Ralph in a major way). Mr. Compton is a relatively clueless, loving military man with a whopper of a drinking problem who seems oblivious to everything going on. The unhappy Mrs. soon decides to leave Africa, her husband, and her impressionable son for her lover, much to the chagrin of his wife (esteemed British thespian Julie Walters, who could likely play a doddering old British lady like this in her sleep). Since dad is such a mess himself, Ralph is soon sent packing to boarding school.

Years go by and Ralph returns to Swaziland a sensitive young man with a penchant for crafting elaborate puppet shows. At this stage of his life, Ralph is played by About a Boy's gifted Nicholas Hoult, who adeptly captures the turmoil and gawkiness of the displaced youth. Upon returning to the community of Brits that is essentially segregated from the Africans, Ralph is hit with a whopper of a surprise: his father has taken a new wife, an American named Ruby (played with warmth and grace by Emily Watson). Ruby is a brash "former air hostess" who relentlessly speaks her mind, which is a horrifying concept for the tightly clinched, "proper" British ladies living in the community. While the film tries to point out the hypocritical irony of the upper-crust, morality-driven women being just short of common prostitutes (they are all sleeping with each other's husbands, after all), it seems to be merely hinted at, never fully-formed.

The two clash at first but over time Ruby becomes like a second mother to the boy, which proves to be a huge problem when the first Mrs. Compton returns to stake claim to her family. Hoult and Watson, in fact, seem to be acting in another film altogether: they endow their characters with such depth and tenderness that they seem almost out of place in such a flimsy, afterthought of a film. Watson, in particular, has become (since her explosive 1996 film debut in Lars Von Trier's crushing Breaking the Waves) the kind of actress that somehow can elevate whatever material she gets her hands on to another level. Though she isn't getting juicy leads like she did 10 years ago, she is thankfully still managing to steal scenes in pivotal supporting roles like Ruby.

As Harry's alcoholism begins to get more and more intense and Lauren makes a venom-fueled return to the film, the script begins to awkwardly lunge towards melodrama. It is the abrupt, uneven mix of sweet nostalgia, unfunny jokes, and waxy dramatics that are eventually the film's undoing. While the film itself is entertaining and not threatening in the least, there is an amateurish quality to the proceedings that is off-putting: Wah-Wah is not unlike junk food: tasty, but it may leave you feeling unfulfilled.

Grant is unfortunately an obvious novice as a director; one that can't seem to find his focus, despite managing a couple concise moments of clarity through character (such as with the scenes between Ruby and Ralph as they cope with Harry's disease together). These small, well-built contributions are effective enough, but there is a disarming lack of perspective and culture missing from the project that is almost alarming: for a film set in Africa, there are disturbingly few Africans present in significant roles. Unfortunately, the genuinely cinematic moments are few and far between, and are generally courtesy of the skillful performances. Chalk Wah Wah up as yet another sweet, misguided film that could have potentially achieved greatness in a more seasoned filmmaker's hands.

4

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.