A dark yet sometimes rocking comedy from British social satirist Dean (The Idea of Love, 2009, etc.) about a posh British lawyer who has spent most of his life running away from his crude, working-class family.
His parents divorced after teenager Nick, already an intellectual golden boy embarrassed by his parents, ratted out his father Ken for adultery. Nick’s sweet-natured, less favored younger brother Dave went to live with Ken, while Nick stayed with their eccentric, angry mom Pearl before he escaped to university. More than 20 years later, Dave, who has remained the family mediator, talks Nick into a reunion with Ken. At 80, Ken has decided he will be dying soon and wants Nick’s help in divorcing his second wife June. By turns nasty and maudlin, Ken still infuriates Nick, but Nick is also feeling delayed guilt about his past behavior. On vacation with his live-in girlfriend, spa owner Astrid, Nick runs into a girlfriend he treated badly in his youth and faces what a snob he was even then. Mistakenly jealous and misreading Nick’s feelings, Astrid is afraid that Nick will decamp if her looks and youth continue to fade. He worries that he is not up to playing stepfather to Astrid’s troubled daughter Laura, to whom he has unexpectedly become devoted. Meanwhile, Ken’s infatuation with a kindly middle-aged funeral-home director leads him to an unexpected meeting with Pearl and the rekindling of passion, no less intense for being geriatric. Some scenes—like Ken’s trip with his sons to Wales in search of June, whom Ken (mistakenly) suspects has stolen his money—have a madcap energy reminiscent of Joyce Cary novels, while Nick and Astrid’s complicated duet shows how difficult it can be to achieve intimacy. The rural working-class British dialect may be difficult for American readers to comprehend, but the tartly sweet rewards are worth the challenge.
Dean’s acerbic affection for her characters and her social commentary are both spot-on and surprisingly poignant.