Life Just Is

LIFE JUST IS, the debut feature from British director Alex Barrett, is an amiable drama following the lives of several university graduates in their mid-20s. Attempting to illuminate larger themes through the specific concerns of a host of characters, the film achieves this fairly well – even if you want to give some of the characters a good shake.

The film has a rather ballsy opening, during which our roster of well-spoken graduates bemoan, at what seems like great length, the predictability of a film they’ve just finished watching. That’s fighting talk, right there. Fortunately, the film largely avoids face-planting into the hubris it risks after this. A group of young friends are used as avatars for the problems Barrett wants to deal with: Jay (Jayne Wisener) struggles to commit to Bobby (Paul Nicholls) for fear of being hurt again; Tom (Nathaniel Martello-White) and Claire (Fiona Ryan) struggle to deal with a mutual attraction and Pete (Jack Gordon) has an existential crisis of non-faith.

Life Just Is | TakeOneCFF.com

The film is relatively low-key, featuring no non-diegetic music and locations no more exotic than the street outside the houses our characters share. Avoiding clichéd dialogue, a lot of Barrett’s scripted interactions between the friends feels like it rings true. We’re genuinely interested in what decisions they will make, regarding the various forks in the road they seem to be offered during the week in which we follow them.

… we are led to believe all these folks have university degrees, yet they seem to do very little but mope …

Any problems seem to arise from the slightly self-pitying attitude displayed by the fortunate individuals we’re following. It is hard to sympathise with the existential and adolescent issues facing the protagonists – we are led to believe all these folks have university degrees, yet they seem to do very little but mope childishly about their problems. This is obviously part of portraying the difficult route into adulthood, but it does make engaging with the characters’ concerns somewhat challenging. Although Jack Gordon gives a fine performance as Pete, his arc feels severely out of place and there are a number of minor strands that feel left hanging.

LIFE JUST IS is a decent film, possessing wit and intelligence (alongside some above average acting) but it will be hard for the film to persist in the memory, as a result of the slightly whiny concerns of the otherwise very likeable characters. The film is a decent first stab, with believable individuals portrayed well by most of the ensemble cast, but their future roles and Alex Barrett’s next feature will probably be more interesting than LIFE JUST IS.

Book tickets here for the world première of LIFE JUST IS, screening at Edinburgh International  Film Festival  on 23 Jun at 15.15

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  • http://twitter.com/tobytram Toby Miller

    Here are some interviews with the crew of the film, fronted by @jan_gilbert.

    http://flicksandthecity.com/life-just-is-with-alex-barrett-christine-hartland-roland-holmes/

    I’m bewildered why this film is at Edinburgh, as I found it only a rung above student level, with some of the most unimaginative and average direction I’ve seen. But the praise, from Jim and others, does make me feel I should revisit.

    • http://www.takeonecff.com/author/jimgr Jim Ross

      Hmm, I do feel you and Rosy were harsh *but* I’m not convinced “unimaginative and average direction” is actually unfair. There was nothing amazing going on, apart from one or two moments outwith the houses, but that could be slightly hamstrung by lack of locations. Sure, you can still shoot imaginatively but we’re talking about a debut feature here, not Hitchcock or Polanski. It has merit, but I’ll perhaps be more interested in what Alex Barrett *writes* next and what the actors do.

      • http://twitter.com/tobytram Toby Miller

        I’m not looking for a budding genius of directing, I’m watching for a director who thinks where to put the camera; which angle best suits the way he/she has written the scene. In too many cases with this film the camera was simply sat behind the actors, so their faces couldn’t even be seen during exchanges (I have a scene in the kitchen in mind) I don’t believe it was a stylistic choice, rather it was a disinterest in anything but getting the script on screen. Which is fine I guess if Alex Barrett goes on to be a writer. But shots/edits add a layer to even the best script, and too many young directors do not seem to realise that. In the end it’s the same problem I had with The Angels’ Share, no interest in using composition to help tell your story. Why make a film at all?

        None of this bothered me until I found the film was in contention for the Michael Powell award at the EFF.

        Sorry, too much coffee this morning.

  • http://www.facebook.com/arowhena Rosy Rockets

    I was turned off from the moment I recognised the thinly veiled disclaimer, described accurately by Jim as a “ballsy opening”. The line struck me as forebodingly smart-alec and I never felt proven wrong. I agree that Alex Barrett is a fine scriptwriter, and all of his voices had charm and authenticity. Stylistically, though, it alienated me completely. The actors’ talent was stifled by hesitant direction – their characters showed depth but there was little development. And the strange, flat camerawork. I enjoy a contrived camera setup where the film has a theatrical or classical heritage – e.g. “THE LAST SUPPER” or “GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS” or any old Greenaway. LIFE JUST IS seemed to organise itself around where in a cramped room it was easiest for the camera person to park their bum, though. The interiors were weirdly spartan, chic and spotless – almost surreal. At one point I started to wonder if all this aesthetically pleasing, gentle meandering was pointing at a Lindelof purgatory, or even a sort of castrated Huis Clos. The rainy street shots stood out for me; they introduced some physical kinesis and narrative red-herring-do which I found refreshing. Agree that the writer and actors are worth keeping an eye on – Jack Gordon is great in “THE DEVIL’S BUSINESS” and Jayne Wisener deserves better than “The Inbetweeners”. But it wasn’t enough to draw me in.
    I might be convinced to retrospectively bung the film a bit more credit but I would never countenance wasting ANOTHER 90 mins of my life on it.

  • http://twitter.com/tobytram Toby Miller

    “Park Your Bum Productions” is a company I shall be setting up at once.