Wah-Wah (Richard E. Grant). 97 minutes. Opens Friday (June 2). For venues and times, see Movies, page 195. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Richard E. Grant is a wonderful character actor, able to disappear into a role. Wah-Wah , based on Grant's real-life childhood traumas in the late 60s in Swaziland, which was about to receive its independence from Great Britain, lets us understand his motivation for doing so. The film follows Ralphie ( Nicholas Hoult ) as he deals with ever-present racism, an adulterous mother ( Miranda Richardson ), a snobby community, an alcoholic pop ( Gabriel Byrne ), an American step-mother ( Emily Watson ), a needy neighbour ( Julie Walters ) and a beyond-creepy facial tic (think a slo-mo soundless version of Munch's The Scream).
Writer/director Grant's intimate knowledge of the material lends authenticity to the story, providing great insight into the prejudice of the period and into the ways a child copes by masking the pain. Unfortunately, his lack of objectivity results in an overload of melodrama that's barely salvaged by Hoult's heartbreaking performance.
As for Richardson and Byrne, we can only hope that Grant wanted them to seem as unstable and shrill as he remembers his parents were.
Thank goodness for Watson as the open-minded former flight attendant whose personality shakes up the town. She's an asset to any film.