Published Dec 01, 2002Someone really ought to abduct Samantha Morton, shrink her down, and permanently adhere her to the celluloid of a Mike Leigh film. With her crooked overbite and saucer-wide eyes, not to mention her complete lack of self-consciousness, she puts Leigh regulars like Katrin Cartlidge to shame with effortless, exacting realness. Simply put, Morton is the beauty and pathos of working-class Britain personified. In her new film, Morvern Callar, she keeps one leg in the Leigh and Ken Loach mildewed bathtub of class struggle, while simultaneously managing to snake the rest of her body through the curves of a trance beat. Playing the titular Morvern, Morton is a "modern," self-absorbed cockney gal living in the Highlands of western Scotland with one thing on her mind a way to get somewhere else. What she does when she gets there is of little consequence. Morvern knows she wants more, she just doesn't really know what more she wants. Instead of alerting the proper authorities when her boyfriend offs himself one Christmas Eve, Morvern opens her presents, steals 20 quid from his back pocket, and house-parties until dawn while he corrodes on the living room floor. When she finally decides to do something with his corpse, she performs what appears to be a wholly unnecessary dissection in the aforementioned mouldy tub. Staring into their personal computer, glowing cold and blue as the Scottish morning, she decides to delete his name from the title page of his freshly finished novel, and without hesitation gently ticks in the letters of her own before sending the manuscript south to London. Morvern registers little emotion when discussing the deceased with her best friend Lanna (first-time actor Kathleen McDermott, who could be Gwenyth Paltrow's Scottish cousin,) but it's hard to tell if it's the drugs or that cold northern British light that's sapping her will to care. "He left me," she tells Lanna, staring at the break room walls of the grocery store where they work. "Where did he go?" wonders Lanna. "I don't know " says Morvern, "another country?" It's like watching Katie Holmes and Sarah Polley in Go, except these girls show the weary reality of the sensation junkie all over their pasty faces. What to do but get a tan? Morvern empties her lover's bank account and the two young women head for a sunny Spanish resort hotel. They scam ecstasy from young men eager to get them into bed (and they do that, too). But it's all too much for Morvern. Or is it too little? Either way, she leaves the resort with a perturbed Lanna for the dusty, colour-saturated back roads of the natives' Spain. Soon, she has two English publishers hot on her trail with chequebooks in hand. Directed by Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher) with a shambling, early 70s charm, Morvern Callar has a lot in common stylistically with other existential drug movies like Drugstore Cowboy or Morton's own Jesus' Son. It was lovingly shot by talented cinematographer Alwin Kuchler (The Claim) with a delicate attention to setting and tone, and Morton is beguiling as Callar. Unlike those other tiny cinematic miracles, however, it's lacking a strong narrative undercurrent and point of view. Ramsay poses the question "Does it really matter who wrote the novel?" After all, Morvern is alive and breathing and can use the cash. It's a class warfare argument worthy of Leigh himself. Unfortunately, Morvern comes across as simply a dopey yet dishonest opportunist far more Shallow Grave than Bicycle Thief, or even Being There (the movie flirts with satirising upper-class condescension when it focuses on the publishing world.) It's hard to couch a humanist sentiment in that. Oh, and I would presume that author Alan Warner, whose novel was used as the source material for the movie, would want to be credited in full, living or dead. After all, isn't a writer's first obligation to the truth? Morvern Callar spins like the wheels of Morvern's omnipresent personal cassette player. It may yield some distracting sometimes even beautiful music, but, like the haunting, disjointed score, it doesn't really go anywhere. The movie itself has succumbed to the sensations that befall Morvern. It just doesn't know what it wants.