Publication: TheMovieWaffler, November 17th 2017
There is a highly ambitious scene early in Hi-Lo Joe, as a tracking shot depicts Joe (Matthew Stathers) trying to give Elly (Lizzie Phillips) the full house party experience in under five minutes. This is Joe at his happiest, when life is a crazy whirlwind putting him at the centre of attention. Alas, Joe doesn’t know how to switch off, and his ability to connect with people on an adult level suffers for it.
Through what I expect was a mixture of artistry and practicality, all but the first and last scenes in Hi-Lo Joetake place in Joe’s implausibly large Peckham flat. Visual quirks such as a figmented masked man give the feel of a dark fantasy taking place in Joe’s head, feeding into his paranoia. This may also explain the overwrought characters, who often take on the exaggerated feel of a fevered mind.
A flaw at the heart of Hi-Lo Joe is just how unpalatable Joe’s relationship with Elly is. She is a woman with her head screwed on, yet still able to have some fun. Joe just acts like an immature tosser from the start. If he’s not boasting about how difficult it is to assemble a mixtape, he’s drinking himself into a stupor when Elly has the temerity to travel for 10 days on a work trip. She is so quick to forget and so prone to forgive, it derails her otherwise believable character.
In one scene Elly recovers from a trauma in part caused by Joe’s immaturity. As she tries to take some time planning her bucket list, he’s gurning on about wanking into a Pot Noodle. By this point I was screaming ‘leave him!’ at the screen. Justifying her actions out of a love for him only holds if an audience has seen any reasons to love him.
Hi-Lo Joe contrasts with another film about an exuberant over-sharer struggling with depression, Lenny.Dustin Hoffman is able to convey this spectrum of emotions simultaneously as Lenny Bruce and, more importantly, he’s actually funny.
For all his preening, Joe raises a smile perhaps twice in the film. Most of the time he’s a smug moron, pulling out the sort of antics that get tiresome past Fresher’s Week.
Joe gains a level of humanity when dressed as Liza Minnelli, Elly finally able to break through the performative exterior and get him to speak about his struggles with mental illness. The mellower Joe that follows is a much less tiresome screen presence, and it’s a shame it takes over an hour into Hi-Lo Joe for him to show any signs.
A key saying in Hi-Lo Joe is ‘somebody once told me you shouldn’t just be with someone you love, or someone who loves you. But someone who loves like you love.’ This is the sentimental equivalent of empty calories. A more appropriate saying for Joe would be ‘grow up or she’ll leave you’.
Director James Kermack has shown some real talent behind the camera, and there are some interesting themes in Hi-Lo Joe. In the future I would love to see Kermack hand the writing duties over, to see what he can do capturing a less cyclical plotline and less punchable lead.
Hi-Lo Joe is in UK cinemas and on digital November 24th.