REVIEW: This is an insubstantial film, but a defiantly big-hearted and pleasant one too.
Someone a lot wiser than me (and frankly, who isn’t?) once said, “íf there truly is a god, and he likes us, then he would let dogs live longer”.”
Anyone who’s ever been owned by a dog understands that exactly. Dogs do have a way of transforming us, even as they are moulting and farting their way through our lives, eating us out of house and home and then dying just when we weren’t ready for it. And, dogs do have an uncanny knack for introducing us to new people, who we at least have dogs in common with.
Which is, near enough, the premise of 23 Walks, from writer and director Paul Morrison (Little Ashes).
Holding the leashes of their respective best friends are Fern and Dave. She is 60-something, freshly divorced and really not interested in starting anew with anyone just yet. He is Dave, apparently a widower, and seemingly the loveliest bloke you could ever run into on a blustery day in a north London park.
The two become fond of each other while walking their hounds. An initial friendship turns to a tentative romance. But, both have their secrets and privacies, and there’ll be a few fraught moments before anything like love can prevail.
Knowing exactly where 23 Walks is heading – a rom-com with anything other than a happy ending is completely unmakeable – the real interest is how well and compellingly the film can navigate the expected obstacles. And here, Morrison should thank all his gods for the casting of Alison Steadman as Fern and Dave Johns as Dave.
Steadman has been a stalwart of the UK screen industry for more than 40 years. She has appeared in dozens of films and TV shows, as well as onstage, from Abigail’s Party, in 1977, with then-husband Mike Leigh, to the present day. As Fern, Steadman turns in a beautifully layered creation, with all the quirks and foibles of real life, mostly expressed through brilliant non-verbal moments that quite probably make Morrison’s script seem a lot better than it actually is.
Likewise, Dave Johns as Dave. Johns basically resurrects his character from I, Daniel Blake, gives him a few dance moves and gets on with it. There’s a lovely sense of blurred edges and uncertainty to his Dave, even as we hope we can trust that he still a good’un when it counts.
23 Walks is an insubstantial film, but a defiantly big-hearted and pleasant one too. It may stretch credulity at times, but with Steadman and Johns in shot, it never loses its heart. If it sounds like the sort of thing you want to see, I don’t doubt that you will enjoy it very much.