Movie Review by Neil Ryan
Starring: Alec Newman, Marc Warren, Sienna Guillory, Lara Clifton, Alexander Popplewell
Director: Penny Woolcock
Bit of a mixed bag this: clearly aiming to be an in-your-face look at some of life’s less palatable realities it is actually best served by the simple love story at its core. The unflinching full-frontal nudity of the title sequence introduces us to central character Paul (Alec Newman): a would-be novelist who is short on money and inspiration. However, two chance meetings in the space of one day alter the course of his life. Firstly he, literally, bumps into Billy (Marc Warren) and his girlfriend Hole (Lara Clifton) who, in a fair reflection of the film’s earnest attempts at casual sensationalism is both a stripper and a law student. Then, later that evening, he meets single-mother Juliette (Sienna Guillory) and an instant mutual attraction leads to a passionate affair. Paul is thus caught between Billy’s drug-fuelled orgies of sex and violence and the measured domesticity of life with Juliette and her five year-old son Harry (Alexander Popplewell).
Although the viewer is ultimately rooting for Paul to settle down to life with Juliette, this is no thanks to the fact that the supposed chemistry between the pair is (initially) poorly served by script, direction, and acting. For the first hour of the film Alec Newman’s Paul is emotional Teflon: he fails to provoke any sort of sympathy, empathy, or attachment. The instant connection he feels with Juliette is very unconvincing: the attempt to portray an immediate attraction underpinned by latent eroticism is lost amidst poor dialogue and injudicious editing. It seems as though director Penny Woolcock was impatient to speed through the routine meeting/courting/moving-in phases of the relationship so that she could get to the gritty stuff. Sure enough, as arguments and disillusion start to undermine the happy household so Paul finds himself increasingly attracted to Billy and his creed of excess. Billy claims that middle-aged couples living in suburbia “reek of disappointment” and life only comes alive at the outer edges of existence. His relationship with Paul is very reminiscent of that between Ed Norton and Brad Pitt in FIGHT CLUB (it is probably no coincidence that bare-knuckle fighting forms a significant subplot in THE PRINCIPLES OF LUST).
The gospel according to Billy is what the frustrated Paul imagines he should be having out of life. It is ironic, therefore, that although the graphic portrayal of sex, drugs, and violence will occupy most of the column inches devoted to the film there is just as much to admire in the scenes of simple domesticity shared by Paul, Juliette, and Harry. Woolcock does well to capture the normalcy of household life without being judgemental and what emerges from this brave and challenging (but also precocious and over-indulgent) film is the potential and necessity for a simple honest existence to thrive amidst the extremities and excess that (for better or worse) are often the hallmark of modern life.