(2005)3.5Michael BueningWhen Ralph Compton (Nicholas Hoult) asks his mother (Miranda Richardson) why she ran off with "Uncle John" she replies, "he says what he means." Yet one of the problems with Wah-Wah is that, despite their priggish British background, the characters say what they mean all the time. The story is constantly lurching from one balls-out confrontation to the next. Actor Richard E. Grant's first directorial effort shows early potential, opening with some wonderfully illustrated scenes, as young Ralph (Zachary Fox) endures a backseat view of his mother fooling around and his father, Harry (Gabriel Byrne), is awarded a meaningless medal in service of the British Empire. Set in Swaziland, South East Africa, in the late '60s, Pierre Aïm's linen-white, airy cinematography captures the deceptive beauty of a tropical colonial outpost on the wane. The story is based on Grant's childhood and at times it falls into the overambitious muddle of an autobiography writ large. One problem is that Grant does a far better job of depicting the insulated British society than life at home; a country-club production of Camelot looks like it could be a movie in itself. Another is that he tries to cram way too much into the plot: first love, artistic awakening, alcoholism, familial breakdown, colonial criticism, and redemption. About three quarters of the way through, and almost out of nowhere, it's revealed that the Compton family saga is supposed to mirror the downfall of the Brits and the formation of an independent state, and we're asked to feel triumph for a native people we haven't been shown anything about. The score, too close to the Days of Our Lives theme for comfort, doesn't help. Emily Watson was nominated for Best Actress and Grant for Debut Director for the 2005 British Independent Film Awards.