Published May 01, 2003Someone ought to abduct Samantha Morton, shrink her down and permanently adhere her to the celluloid of a Mike Leigh film. Morton is the beauty and pathos of working-class Britain personified. In 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. Instead of alerting the 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. She also attaches her name to her boyfriend's recently finished manuscript before submitting it south to London, after performing what appears to be a wholly unnecessary dissection on his body. Morvern registers little emotion when discussing the deceased with her best friend but it's hard to tell if it's the drugs or that cold northern British light that's sapping her will to care.
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 too little? Either way, she leaves the resort for the dusty back roads of 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 with existential drug movies like Drugstore Cowboy or Morton's own Jesus' Son. It was lovingly shot by talented cinematographer Alwin Kuchler (The Claim) and Morton is beguiling.
Unlike those other tiny cinematic miracles, it's lacking a strong narrative undercurrent and point of view. Unfortunately, Morvern comes across as simply a dopey yet dishonest opportunist more Shallow Grave than Bicycle Thief. 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. (Alliance Atlantis)