J. J. (Joel Dommett) is on the cusp of wowing the crowds and winning the Urban Slam finals with his lyrical prowess. However, not only is he white, he’s also from the countryside, and furthermore he’s gay – three things that don’t mix well in London’s outlaw urban music scene. After outing himself on stage and falling foul of rivals, the Illford Illmaniacs, the savage beating of his boyfriend Orlando (Marcus Kai) changes all their lives forever as adversity forces them to tackle their own perceptions of sexuality, race, and class in ways they could never have imagined.
It would be easy to criticise the incredibly intense and in-your-face approach that writer/director Rikki Beadle-Blair adopts – especially in comparison to Oscar winning spiritual counterpart Crash - as it makes no bones about lacking subtlety. From the very start, you’re taken out of your comfort zone – being both offended and angered – and it’s a theme that continues throughout the entire film. Though a bit too fantastic, exaggerated, and incredibly cataclysmic, it’s worth noting that Beadle-Blair’s approach has always been to overplay reality in order to really ram home the issues he’s focusing on. It would also be woefully dismissive to claim that the events in the plot aren’t drawn from fact – even if they have been augmented.
We are faced with some clunky and forced exposition of themes and ropey characterisation that make some parts difficult to engage with. For example, Kai’s portrayal of an adult with learning difficulties after suffering brain damage is cartoony and borderline crass, while Daniel – played by Michael Lindall – sometimes feels more like a Shakespearian fool than a savvy defence lawyer.
In spite of this, the acting across the entire cast is generally very good. They all handle the blips in the writing wonderfully well, and when the writing shines, so do they. Nathan Clough masters the offensive and ignorant violence of his character as KKK head of the Illford Illmaniacs, but also leaves enough space to foster an infectious sense of comradery and brotherhood with the rest of his crew – even if they are monstrous brutes. Jennifer Daley also masters cynical enigma as a shop girl named Charisma, despite being a minor role. But its comedian and MTV MC Dermmott who shines in his first ever screen role, bringing a deft sense of humanity and pathos to what could have been over-egged tragedy, spurring on a real interest in the more philosophical elements of the narrative.
Even with all faults considered, there are times when the dodgy set ups and awkward characters suddenly open up to some incredibly profound and utterly surprising moments that genuinely amaze. Here, you suddenly realise the intelligence and flair of Beadle-Blair’s approach, where he excels in hitting you with some difficult and fiercely challenging ideas that are impossible to come away from without your countenance rocked and ethics re-evaluated. Furthermore despite the film lasting for a mighty 150 minutes, it doesn’t drag at all – a testament to some sound direction (despite a few bewildering stylistic choices) and production values that are a slick as the cast.
You can pick holes left, right, and centre with Bashment, but in the end it’s difficult not to be completely glued to the screen, even during its weaker moments. In bringing engrossing and challenging issues to an audience, Beadle-Blair should rightfully be commended for a superior effort in pushing the boundaries of didactic cinema even if it is a little rough around the edges.
Featured Image: Toby Wharton (left) and Nathan Clough (right). Photograph: Courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures.