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Nothing much happens in English director Shane Meadows’ Somers Town, either, but its workaday plot lines about friendship, family, and adjusting to a new city are universally relatable—the key to keeping this slight film engaging, even if you forget it not long after the credits roll.
The story starts by separately introducing characters whose lives will eventually intertwine. There’s Tomo (Thomas Turgoose), a young runaway who’s adept at sweet-talking/bullying people into helping him out, a skill that’s especially necessary when he’s robbed of his money and belongings practically as soon as he gets off the train. The next day he forces a friendship with Marek (Piotr Jagiello), a teenager who recently emigrated from Poland with his father (Ireneusz Czop). Marek hides Tomo in his room for a while, afraid of how his hard-working, hard-drinking dad will react. Tomo is also a bit of a jerk. But with nothing else to do during the day but wander London and take photographs—particularly of a lovely cafe waitress—Marek reluctantly becomes Tomo’s friend.
Somers Town then becomes about little else than the boys’ trouble-baiting escapades: stealing clothes from a laundromat, helping a shady neighbor shill merchandise, getting drunk and trashing Marek’s place. It’s the latter offense that offers the script’s only message. The boys drink after the waitress they’ve been crushing on suddenly moves back to France. And Dad drinks because he still misses Marek’s mother. Cue bonding moment once the anger clears and they have a heart-to-heart.
Shot in black and white and accompanied by a finger-picked indie-folk soundtrack, the film does have a whiff of preciousness. And the point of it all is a bit of a mystery: Does Meadows intend to teach the viewer to make the most of any situation? To not judge people by their first impressions? That heartbreak makes it OK to behave like an ass? Whatever we’re supposed to take away from Somers Town, there is one certainty: A running time of 68 minutes helps it go down as inoffensively as whatever you zone out to after planting yourself in front of the TV.