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Judge Brendan Babish • Location: Upland, CA
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Philadelphia Film Festival Review #4: Wah-Wah
April 4th, 2006 7:32PM

Title: Wah-Wah
Director: Richard E. Grant

Wah-Wah is a mostly autobiographical film written and directed by character actor Richard E. Grant (if you haven't seen Withnail and I, do so immediately). Grant was born and raised in Swaziland. In the late 1960s, when Grant was a teenager, Swaziland was on the cusp of gaining their independence from Great Britain. Grant's father worked for the English government in Swaziland, and faced an uncertain future when power was transferred. Surely there is the potential for a great movie with this source material. Wah-Wah is not that movie.

The main problem with Wah-Wah is that the film's drama hinges far more on familial strife as opposed to anything to do with colonial occupation. This wouldn't be so damaging if the family discord was particularly novel, or was portrayed with extraordinary depth, such as in the grand master of domestic dramas, Ordinary People. Instead Wah-Wah plays like a Cliff Notes-style montage of dysfunction, where events cram together without any context of exposition that would allow us to understand at anything other than a surface level. In the first scene of the movie the mom is cheating on her husband. In the second scene she leaves him. The father drinks and soon becomes violent. Things progress at this breakneck pace, with nearly every scene encompassing either nasty sunderings or warm reconciliations. It seems like Grant felt the need to squeeze every event of his childhood into this film. To his credit, and to the film's detriment, he succeeded in this aim.

It is also worth noting that in real life Grant has a brother who lived with him in Swaziland. Due to some sort of family feud the brother has been excised out of the movie. I have no idea what the feud is, but my guess is that, whatever it may be, it's more interesting than any of the drama portrayed in Wah-Wah.

Grade: D+


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