Glasgow Reviews: Dropping Off Michael and Misery Guts

The second, somewhat ominously titled instalment of Scottish films at GSFF 2015 was ‘Dark Days.’ This collection included an often eclectic bag of macabre oddities from the Hibernian world; but two world premieres therein introduced a very specific take on the Scottish experience. Dropping Off Michael and Misery Guts both brought versions of the Trainspotting formula to the big screen: laughs, drugs and social inequalities.

But both shorts also bring very distinct, honest takes on this formula. Rory Alexander Stewart’s Misery Guts, for example - despite what the title suggests - does not bring a world of negativity. Instead Stewart has taken the money he won from the Skinny/Innis & Gunn Short Film Competition at last year’s GSFF (for Good Girl), and invested it in this fun frolic after Julie – a character who becomes wrapped up in series of random happenings thanks to her obsessive desire for cats.

In typically British humour, however, the world captured in a hand-held digital style is far from bright. Although Misery Guts has more than enough 'Trainspotting-esque' fantastical flashes to prevent it from being a traditional piece of gritty Scottish realism either. Nevertheless, Stewart’s love letter to cats does have serious social significance too. It depicts a Scotland where the posh and the poor almost can’t relate… Almost.

And short film veteran Zam Salim’s Dropping Off Michael begins in a similar world in some respects. We’re taken into a world of sparse suburban sounds, sedate colours and streaming gloomy light, where the eponymous Michael lives with his mother. Dressed smartly in a shirt and tie, we then see Michael’s uncle come to collect him for a red letter day. It humorously seems like this inciting incident is innoxiously going to be something between a football trial or an important job interview.

But by the time he and uncle Duncan hit the pub, it becomes clear that something much more sinister is lined up. And whilst their big day out is full of colourful Scottish idioms, Dropping Off Michael does turn out to be a form of gritty Scottish social realism. So the short’s message remains consistently a deep one: from poverty to prostitution, Michael is forced by his social conditions to face a number of unpleasant initiations well beyond his years. Michael’s story therefore becomes a stark (almost Dickensian) look at corruption and betrayal; and young males in Salim’s Scotland have rough futures to look forward to (and rough people to look up to).

Supported by a whole host of cultural and institutional bodies, Dropping Off Michael will no doubt be well-suited to urban UK festivals anywhere. It will also be well-suited to anybody looking for teenager-centric films or films about masculinity. Whereas Misery Guts will actually be a pretty smart addition to a number of comedy short film festivals, and should definitely be considered. Moreover, its place at the Minneapolis Internet Cat Video Festival, the LA Feline Film Festival and the Canadian Just For Cats Festival is thankfully resoundingly assured.

Film Details
Original Title: Dropping Off Michael
Director: Zam Salim
Country: UK
Year: 2014
Run Time: 15 mins
Contact: producer@jumpcutcrew

Original Title: Misery Guts
Director: Rory Alexander Stewart
Country: UK
Year: 2015
Run Time: 12 mins

17 March 2015, by Thomas Humphrey