“Coming of age isn’t much fun…” but watching the hilariously obdurate Alan struggle to make it to the next stage in life certainly is. Bristol student Sam Toller’s trifecta directing, writing and starring has resulted in Alan, an independent film that nostalgically celebrates the quirks of adolescence without patronising the naivety of youth.
Alan (Sam Toller) is stuck at crossroads: the pressure is on to make a choice between universities, he’s facing the prospect of a long distance relationship with a girlfriend who seems to hate him, and, on top of that, his hopes of being a writer are delayed by the fact that he, well, can’t seem to write. Alan feels like he’s peaked and is on a downhill rollercoaster. How can the prospect of moving away be a good thing when it means the inevitable end of so much?
Filmed over the last year in both London and Bristol, Sam Toller’s passion project is finally being unveiled on May 2 at a premiere in the Winston Theatre, Bristol SU.
This isn’t your average coming-of-age comedy. Filled with wry humour and intensely honest self-deprecating wit, Alan is a mix of philosophical broodings and youthful hilarity that points out the all too familiar anxiety of making life decisions when your life has barely been lived. “I am worthless”, Alan tells himself when things start going wrong. “…or, I’m just punishing myself?”
Toller’s script, for all its self-doubt, still manages to celebrate the power of good friends. Layla Madanat gives standout heart and punch to the fearless Chrissie, who is basically the best friend we all wish we were lucky enough to be blessed with at seventeen. Arthur Godden’s portrayal of James, Alan’s other best friend, is also praiseworthy: James is bold but sweet. Toller describes the writing process as “very observational”, and this translates into a realistic and extremely lovable cast of characters all itching to take the next step in life.
The story is enhanced by the freedom of an independent project, and you can feel that is has been shaped by one vision that has gradually developed into something profound and funny. Shot on a Sony FS100 with a small three-man crew, the scenes are often long and representative of the repetitiveness of real-life conversation. And there is a lot of repetition, all in the name of Alan’s self-discovery. While, as a viewer, the longer, more static scenes can be a little draining, Toller described this as the sort of vibe he wanted.
“I wanted to let the actors act and make the most of the script,” he commented. “We’d do a few takes from one angle, usually getting the whole scene in one take, then move on to another.”
It is refreshing to allow a scene to flourish in its own time – something the cut-and-move-on vibe of a Hollywood blockbuster often smothers. Settle in for the long haul, and embrace it.
The long scenes also serve to enhance the punchiness of the shorter, more comedic ones. Without giving too much away, expect a car crash, the awkwardness of attempting to buy alcohol when underage, and one very lucky coke bottle…
Many of the viewers watching Alan’s premiere will be approaching the end of their degrees, and will feel a very personal nostalgia about the last time they were coming to the end of an era. This reviewer certainly was. However, take heart, Alan’s overriding message is one of hope. No matter how unclear the future looks right now, Alan will remind you that our paths all take their own routes shaped by endless scope of opportunity out there.