The very least you would want with a movie called The Goob is to know who The Goob is. To be clear, his identity isn’t kept a mystery, since he is the teenage protagonist played by newcomer Liam Walpole, but as for getting to know him – his hopes, his fears, his pet peeves – the movie only offers very basic answers or none at all. The tumultuous prologue sees him arrive home in Norfolk to his impoverished family, beginning his time off from school by stealing a rally car with his brother Levi (Paul Popplewell) and going for a joyride. It doesn’t end well, leaving Levi in the hospital and him having to step up and work for the car’s owner, his cruel stepfather Womack (Sean Harris). Credits are hard-cut in over the momentous accident without any break to the moody score from Luke Abbott, showing writer-director Guy Myhill’s intent to barrel straight through realist family drama with minimal fuss. That instinct, regrettably, is what makes the film largely impenetrable.
There’s plenty of facts dropped about “Gooby” at this point, like how he rides a cool bike and loves his mum (Sienna Guillory), but nothing that makes us wonder how he’ll deal with situations. Perhaps the producers were banking on Walpole being absorbing enough to fill out Myhill’s sketch, but despite his otherworldly look, it’s too big of an ask. His face and body language are striking in the first ten minutes, like a gawky cherub touching back down to earth, and his relationship with his mother feels genuine, but wherever he goes as the plot wears on, those impressions are never built on. There are several shots that hint at his inner mentality, like of him playing with and freeing a spider in his bedroom, but they are lost in an incredibly fussy edit job that never seems to focus on anything for long enough to register or connect to anything else.
The same goes for the rest of the cast. We don’t get why Womack is as vile and violent as he is, despite Harris’ intimidating perforamcne, and odd bits of humour that might complicate his motives get completely lost in the onward trudge. A charismatic, effeminate young man (Oliver Kennedy) comes from the city to lend a hand on the property and inadvertently stirs up trouble via Womack’s predictable homophobia. His scenes in the diner with Goob and a waitress (Hannah Spearritt) are the most relatable of the whole film, so it’s a shame that nothing about his story seems to catch in relation to Goob’s, with whom he has some chemistry but nothing majorly impactful.1 Marama Corter has better luck as Goob’s foreign love interest, but she is rendered her a weak symbol of escapism by the end, paritcularly in a party montage that feels like a music video for the EDM that accompanies it.
Myhill has remarked that he thought he could build a film around Walpole if he managed to “tune this right”, and while he has fallen short in the finished story, the opposite is true of its setting and style. Through excellent work by DOP Simon Tindall, Myhill’s production design sings with the rain-slicked stock-rally culture of the Norfolk area, in a way that brings Clio Barnard’s Bradford achievements in last year’s The Selfish Giant to mind. Nighttime scenes in particular have a luminous and spacey vibe, in line with Luke Abbott’s synthesised score and the backgrounded sounds of video game machines (sound design being from Anne Bertmark, a veteran of several modern UK films like Starred Up). It’s a rough place with glints of homeliness, and it does much for us to buy into the cycle of poverty that might keep someone like Goob stuck in its mud.
It’s just a pity that it overreaches with his narrative. Judging from an awkwardly protracted final shot, Myhill wants his work to be imbued with more significance than what’s been earned. There just isn’t enough in The Goob, or enough that’s well realised, to sustain interest even for 85 minutes. When the Sydney Film Festival’s solid preceding short, Saturday, tells a more complete and affecting story in its own 14 minutes (albeit with the assistance of a tragic real-world event in its setting), there are some sore issues present.