After the successes of That Sinking Feeling, Gregory’s Girl and Local Hero, British filmmaking legend Bill Forsyth does it again with Comfort and Joy, which sees Bill Patterson as an isolated loner that has just been abandoned by the love of his life around Christmas time. As he tries to get his life sorted out and continue to thrive as a popular radio jockey, he is continuously led into a very strange battle between warring ice cream vans over the entire ice cream market of Glasgow.
That premise alone may sound strange, but when you watch the film itself, you realise just what an absolute gem it is and why Bill Forsyth is the legend he is. From the superbly orchestrated opening (very reminiscent of silent comedy) to the heartfelt closing radio soliloquy at the end, this film has what all great dramas have: real human characters, a grounded yet whimsy tone, comedy that isn’t toe curling or over-exaggerated, and most of all, real heart and soul. In its structure and tone, this is a film that’s probably completely foreign to an audience beyond British demographics, yet at the same time, like with Local Hero, Forsyth makes it totally accessible seeing as the characters and situations are absolutely universal all around.
We go on this journey with Bill Patterson’s Dickie Bird, and as the film goes on, we understand more and more about him and the emotional plights he’s going through. Despite the fact he’s a famous radio DJ in his hometown, we understand that deep down, all he wants to do is help people. It’s here we understand why he is willing to go to such absurd lengths to find a way of putting an end to the feud between the two battling ice cream proprietors. The outstanding Bill Patterson beautifully conveys all this with enough subtlety and nuance that you do identify with him and care about the trials and tribulations he’s put through over the course of the film, and when he inevitably overcomes all odds by the end, it’s a huge punch-in-the-air reaction. Veteran DP Chris Menges perfectly sets the tone of the film with his cinematography, creating an almost melancholic atmosphere, whilst Mark Knopfler's musical score perfectly complements the film’s mood.
As well as being a strange movie, Comfort and Joy is also a very moving one as well, boasting terrific performances (particularly by Bill Patterson), and it takes that bittersweet/heartfelt tone that Bill Forsyth is famous for doing and does it to absolute perfection. Also, much like It’s a Wonderful Life, it’s one of those movies you can sit and watch with the family at Christmas, and every time you see it, there’s something else there that you didn’t notice before. It may not have been the massive success that Local Hero was, but it is every bit as enjoyable, and it has, at its heart, a really warm affectionate spirit. Much like the “Frosty Hots” that Bird invents, it’s kinda cold and warm at the same time.
COMFORT AND JOY (1984) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: BILL FORSYTH / STARRING: BILL PATTERSON, C.P GROGAN, ELEANOR DAVID / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 29TH