Written & Directed by Sam Toller
Starring Sam Toller, Layla Madanat, Arthur Godden, Danii Van Der Vliet
Indie Film Review by Chris Olson
British coming-of-age indie film Alan is a quintessentially teenage movie. Featuring emotional growing pains galore and enough first world problems to sink a yacht, the titular Alan is played by Sam Toller, who also writes and directs the film. As with most movies where the filmmaker wears hats behind and in front of the camera, there is a large dose of self-indulgence here, but also a considerable amount of promise.
Alan is on the precipice of manhood. A plethora of achievements behind him, his biggest fear is that he has peaked too early. With the daunting task of attempting to get into Cambridge being one of several issues he currently faces, our protagonist experiences what can only be described as a mid-life crisis at the age of 17. His girlfriend Em (Danii Van Der Vliet) is aloof in her responses to Alan's tireless affections, all those around Alan continually tell him how great he is, leading to immeasurably high expectations which choke him, and to top it off...he can't seem to get served in pubs unless he has a beard!
There exists a heart to Toller's story which is universal in its appeal and compelling in its execution. The idea that you are your own worst enemy when it comes to the idea of "failure". Alan's problem is not that Cambridge might reject him or that his girlfriend might dump him, it's that he judges his own self-worth on what others expect of him. His arc during the story explores this in great detail, with plenty of pathos and emotion.
The film is too baggy, and could do with trimming a good half an hour from the running time. Limiting Alan's endless monologues about his woes to single digits would be a good start. Also, the dialogue is chock full of needless exposition which could have been communicated far more effectively with the excellent animation which does appear several times, or by cutting it altogether. Toller seems intent on making sure he tells the audience everything that is going on between the lines.
Alan is not a particularly enigmatic central character, and to base a film solely on his presence is a tall order. The film would have benefitted from sub plots which referred to characters that were not "smart arses" who also experience difficulty facing their futures. In particular Chrissie (Layla Madanat) who is Alan's BFF, who is wonderfully humorous and entertaining.
Whilst Toller is pretty mediocre in front of the camera, he proves himself very worthy behind it. The filmmaking is excellently delivered, with brilliantly framed sequences between Alan and his friends, as well as a few nods of the head to a filmmaker like Edgar Wright with quick cuts and sharp editing (among other more obvious references). The score is scrappy in most places, relying on an uncomfortable mix of genres, although one sequence involving an acoustic song over some nostalgic home footage was specifically affecting.
It would have been nice to see Toller direct someone else as the lead. His skills as a filmmaker punctuate the movie continuously, but sequences of him alone with the camera are startlingly ineffective. The ensemble cast seem to flourish under his direction, with many actors delivering excellent performances. Overall, this seems like a C+ but shows great potential for a future filmmaking career.
Watch the official Movie Trailer for Alan below...