Ahm frae Glesga so ah dinnae like Embra that much, ken? Fir as we're concerned, it's an up itsel' wee toon full a' poofs wae a wank castle and an overpriced, unwanted parliament that's as tacky as the shite the rest of the shops on the Royal Mile peddle on eedjit tourists every summer. Talkin' of shite peddled on eedjits during the summer, Embra does itsel' proud wae it's Festival, a cavalcade of up themsel' comedians who by and large are aw bastards, wanky theatre that disnae make any sense and stupit bloody street performers. Ah ken this film's just as angry aboot the twats at the festival as everybody else, shame it's just as shite, eh?
All stereotypical joking aside, Festival is an absolutely caustic look at the battle of egos that make up the behind the scenes action every year at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, filmed in quite an informal hand held camera style. It attempts to intertwine several stories all set during the festival – Faith, a naïve theatre geek expecting to blow people's mind with her ridiculous one woman show about Dorothy Wordsworth, who attempts to come to terms with the brutal festival experience with the help of Mike, acting in his own show about pedophile priests while struggling with his own urges. Micheline, unsatisfied with life as a housewife and mother, who rents out her Edinburgh flat to a Canadian theatre troupe. Sean the Irish comedian's complicated tryst with radio presenter Joan (who is judging him for the Festival Comedy prize) and Sean, total bastard TV comedian, who is horrible to his alcoholic PA Petra and abusive to the hateful wannabe starlet Nicky.
For the most part, the stories are completely unrelated and therefore suffer from a feeling that some of the strands are completely redundant. Amelia Bullmore, fantastic in Alan Partridge and Big Train performing comedy, here plays Micheline in the stultifyingly dull plotline in which she spies on the inanely ethereal Canadians before running off with them. Neither interesting, enlightening or meaningful, it's only one in a long line of creative misfires that become apparent during the film. The most serious plotline, with well known (in Scotland) Scottish actor Clive Russell struggling with his own pedophilic urges, is melodramatically played to the extent of unintentional hilarity. The point where a small boy offers to show him his arse for 10 quid stands out, but is nowhere near as nonsensical as the point where director Annie Griffin infers that Scottish hospitals hire mentally unbalanced nurses who secretly perform faith healing on patients rather than actually helping them.
The main storylines, which revolve entirely around comedian's messy lives are somewhat hampered by the fact that at no point during the film is anyone spontaneously genuinely funny. The general (and often quite true) opinion of comedians espoused by the film is that they are horrible people who revel in their miserable, messy lives, but seems to forget that no matter how much you hate them, perhaps on a personal level, they can still make you laugh. For example, that the final scenes revolve around a comedy award in which the front runners were Nicky, Lucy Punch's revolting female comedian who attempts to curry favor by sleeping with Sean, and Chris O' Dowd's character, who's entire repertoire seems to be 'Oim Oirish!'confused me. I had to slightly re-evaluate my previous understanding of the film (that Nicky was intended to be unfunny) and then still wasn't sure if I understood it.
The sex scenes, a fairly major part, attempt to walk the fine line between funny and realistic and grim and realistic, and don't successfully even manage either. Lucy Punch's tryst with Sean includes a worthless split second shot of Sean's erect (if prosthetic) penis, which could only have been put in to elicit a 'did I just see that?' response, no real artistic reason. The initial awkwardness between Chris and Joan (a merely acceptable Daniela Nardini) is the most pleasing, but my greatest displeasure has to be kept for the utterly expendable homosexual comedian who uses puppets in his act – you can't fist someone by starting the experience with your hand already in a fist. Everyone knows that!
But, by and large, the most tragic part of Festival is the utter wasting of huge swathes of British comedy talent. Amelia Bullmore is only one – Sean, played by Stephen Mangan, of Green Wing, and was also the gleefully sleazy sex-swapper Dan in Alan Partridge, acts like an arse but aimlessly so. At least, if anything, he gets some screen time. Actors such as what seems like the entire cast of Garth Marenghi's Dark Place, and Look Around You's 'Synthesiser Patel' Sanjeev Kohli get roughly a minute or two each. To be watching a film about a comedy festival that has almost no jokes and to continuously be teased with a glimpse of yet another genuinely funny person becomes almost too much to bear. There are better films about the backstabbing and cruelty backstage, and there is so much potential for a better film about the Edinburgh Fringe.