Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (2002)

Genres - Comedy Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Comedy of Manners, Romantic Comedy  |   Release Date - Aug 29, 2003 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 101 min.  |   Countries - Germany , United Kingdom , Netherlands   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Whenever it draws parallels between its source material -- the classic spaghetti Western Once Upon a Time in the West -- and the mundane details of life in the English midlands, director Shane Meadows' broad, realist comedy is a winning, knowing farce, worthy of Mike Leigh or Danny Boyle at their most buoyant. The more it strays from its template, the more it becomes a conventional romantic comedy -- not the worst quality in the world for a movie to have, but certainly a step down from the trenchant satire of smoky bingo parlors, anonymous pubs, and cookie-cutter houses Meadows establishes in his opening act. Luckily for the director, his performers are all on the same page, with Rhys Ifans delivering a sly, hilarious variation on his usual shellshocked-naïf routine; Robert Carlyle lending a healthy dose of swagger to his dashing -- if somewhat pathetic -- ex-paramour character; and Shirley Henderson anchoring the two leads with her haggard air of common sense. Best of all is the young Finn Atkins as the daughter who convinces Ifans' Dek to grow a backbone and stand up for himself; their scenes together are refreshingly free of the cloying cuteness usually assigned to the sage-child-mentors-clueless-adult subplot that's all too common to Hollywood romantic comedies.