Hideous Kinky
Director: Gillies MacKinnon
Screenplay: Billy MacKinnon, from the novel by Esther Freud
Cast: Kate Winslet, Saïd Taghmaoui, Bella Riza
NY Distribution Status: now playing (Stratosphere)

Grade: B

Gillies MacKinnon makes movies that are almost invariably intelligent, assured, engrossing, original; what they are not, at least so far, is thrilling. I've seen four of his films now -- the other three being The Playboys, Small Faces, and Trojan Eddie -- and while I enjoyed myself every time, in each case the creative spark that transforms me from passive, interested spectator to active, enraptured participant was conspicuously absent. Here, for better and worse (in that order), he's working in a style that's too disjointed to even properly be called anecdotal -- it's more like semi-anecdotal, with every scene beginning abruptly and ending just when it seems to be on the verge of getting round to the point: "Are you my daddy now?" a little girl asks her mom's new boyfriend, and where a Hollywood movie would have the fellow launch into an extended heartfelt monologue, MacKinnon cuts away before he's had time to blink twice, never to (overtly) return to the subject. Again and again, you're caught slightly off-balance; it's bracing and refreshing for the first two reels or so, as MacKinnon establishes a mood and milieu, but frustrating thereafter, as themes skitter about the sides of the frame without ever quite asserting themselves -- you can easily tell what the movie was supposed to be about, even as you recognize that it's not, ultimately, actually very much about that. Worth seeing, though, for the performances alone; Winslet, playing sort of a first cousin to Housekeeping's flighty Aunt Sylvie -- except she's in fact the girls' mother -- is compulsively watchable despite seeming too far grounded and sensible for the role, and she's well matched by Hate's Taghmaoui (almost unrecognizably serene here) and the two children -- especially Riza, who somehow conveys the idea that Bea is in some respects more mature than her mum without ever coming across as central-casting precocious. Good, honest work, as ever, but how about a few risks next time, eh?