Cast: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton, Richard Ayoade
Director: Joanna Hogg
The Souvenir has all of the makings of a potentially phenomenal movie just based exclusively on the way the movie is set up. When you have A24 distributing the movie, Byrne making her feature film debut, and Hogg directing another smaller-budget, critically-acclaimed British movie, The Souvenir has all of the potential to be one of the best movies of the year. While not the best movie of the year, The Souvenir certainly capitalizes on its potential and delivers an above-average drama with themes that go past your traditional film. For Byrne, this is probably the best movie for her to make an acting debut in as it shows her acting skills are almost as good as her mother’s.
The film follows Julie (Byrne), a film student looking to make a film about a family and their life in Sunderland. When she is making the film, she meets Anthony (Burke), a wealthy, older man and the two begin a romantic relationship together. As Julie begins to discover the darker portions of Anthony’s life, she has to decide if he is worth having in her life and if he is how to help him overcome his demons. For someone who has never been in a leading role like this, Byrne sure shows us that she belongs on the big screen and can compete as one of the best young actresses today. She absolutely nails the emotional tone that is needed for each scene and sets the tone for most of the 119 minute runtime. When you deal with the difficult topics that are present in The Souvenir, there’s a certain amount of sensitivity that needs to be had and Hogg shows us once again why she’s such a naturally-talented director with her ability to set the mood in each scene. While conceptually everything about this movie works on paper, there are two major problems preventing it from reaching the level I believe it could’ve ended up at. The first is there’s a major pacing problem. Even though this movie is a hair under two hours, it feels about a half hour longer than it actually is. This creates a lack of urgency even though the topics being shown to us demand a sense of urgency since they are desperate and affect people all around the world. The other main issue is the lack of depth for most of the characters. Once again this is a movie that works very well in concept, but it never goes the extra mile to show us just how devastating these decisions can be on the people who are impacted by them. Specific scenes almost get this film to that level, but I can’t help but feel that we needed a little more to get the full scope of what was happening to these characters. It’s a shame, because The Souvenir deals with topics and issues that give it the natural ability to talk in a serious yet urgent manner, but it just doesn’t go far enough when putting this emphasis on the issues and the characters associated with them.
Overall, I don’t know when Hogg is going to make the jump to a major American studio, but she’s clearly shown she has the ability to handle a film at basically every level. While the highlights of the movie come from a more technical standpoint, the story just isn’t there to complement the things the movie does well. I’m expecting big things from everyone involved in this movie in the future, and with a sequel planned down the road, I’m hopeful that Hogg can fix the problems in The Souvenir and make another movie that is truly spectacular.
Overall Score: 7/10