Currently playing in UK cinemas is the British comedy-drama, The Nan Movie. The film stars Catherine Tate, Mathew Horne, and Niky Wardley, and follows the story of old age pensioner, Joanie Taylor, as she embarks on a road trip with her grandson Jamie.
Based on characters that originated in the BBC sketch series, The Catherine Tate Show, the movie acts as a continuation of the sketches (and subsequent Nan specials) and picks up with Joanie receiving a letter from her estranged and terminally ill sister, Nell. In the letter, Nell expresses a desire to see Joanie one last time before she passes away, which is something Joanie instantly dismisses.
However, when her next-door neighbour, a suspected nudist, invites Joanie around for a meal, Joanie uses her sister’s illness as an excuse not to take up the invitation. She informs her neighbour that she is going on a trip to see Nell, so will not be able to pop next door for the foreseeable future.
Although Joanie has no intention of visiting Nell, her grandson Jamie takes advantage of the situation and soon whisks Joanie off on a road trip to her sister’s house. Along the way, the pair find themselves caught up in a spot of trouble, Joanie finds time to reminisce about her past, and a long-awaited reunion looms on the horizon.
With the plot summary out of the way, I guess I should start this review in the simplest terms possible by making it clear if The Nan Movie is actually any good. So, here goes…
The Nan Movie is not very good. It is not awful, nor is it one of the worst movies of all-time, but it is a misjudged film and one which is at times quite poor.
As a comedy, it isn’t very funny. It might produce a few chuckles here and there, but most of the jokes fall flat.
As a drama, there is some promise with an emotional edge to proceedings, but the film misses the mark when it counts. It concentrates too much on the comedy meaning all attempts at seriousness get lost in the mix.
As a feature-length film, The Nan Movie feels largely quite hollow, with its basic premise stretched out to breaking point. The film also seems as if it isn’t quite finished, using cheap techniques to paper over the gaps.
And as a piece of entertainment, this picture falls considerably short. Anyone who manages to get through the whole thing without checking their watch or popping to the loo constantly is a better person than me.
In short: The Nan Movie shows a tiny bit of potential, which stops it from being complete dross, but it all feels very messy. The bad parts far outweigh the good, leaving the film somewhat muddled, incredibly disjointed, and ultimately disappointing.
Going into The Nan Movie I knew it was going to be a bumpy ride. The signs were all there.
The Nan Movie was filmed in 2019, with a release date set for 2020. Like most movies that were scheduled for 2020, The Nan Movie’s release was put on hold due to the pandemic, so nothing odd here.
However, what was unusual about The Nan Movie was the lack of information about the film prior to its release. All that anyone seemed to know about the film was its title, which was originally ‘This Nan’s Life’, and there were a couple of behind-the-scenes images released by its director, Josie Rourke.
Rourke touted the movie on her Instagram account back in September 2019. She offered up a few production shots, to make it clear to fans the movie was on its way, but then after this, everything went quiet.
It’s not quite clear what happened between those shots appearing on Instagram and the film making its way into cinemas, but three things did happen that we do know for certain: The movie got a name change; Rourke removed the images from her Instagram account; and she was no longer listed as the director of the film.
If you go to watch The Nan Movie in cinemas (which I advise against), you will not see Rourke listed as the movie’s director. In fact, officially, the movie has no director, it is simply credited as ‘A Catherine Tate film’.
To anyone with a remote interest in movies, a lack of director is a huge red flag. If a director is not credited on a movie, it means they have cut ties from it, or they have been bumped off the project, which almost always means the final product is in bad shape.
But that’s not the only red flag. The second is that this film had no press screenings.
Prior to the release of The Nan Movie, Warner Bros. did not hold any press screenings to help promote the film. This is why there were very few reviews of the movie on its opening day, and why you’ve probably seen hardly anyone talking about it.
And to put this into context, if a studio is unwilling to put their movie in front of critics before it opens to the public, it means they have no faith in the picture. It also means they know it is a dud and the reviews will reflect this.
Now, due to the lack of reviews, the film’s marketing material couldn’t include any quotes from critics, because there were none. So, when it came time to create the poster for The Nan Movie, the marketing team had to include a few pull quotes from random Twitter accounts… that no one had heard of.
This was red flag number three, because if you have to use random Twitter users to promote your movie, it means it is a mess. And if you look carefully at those pull quotes taken from Twitter, you’ll notice they don’t actually make any reference to the movie itself.
The quotes used on the poster are fairly generic lines, and make reference to Catherine Tate or to the Nan character, rather than the film. The quotes are there to give the impression that The Nan Movie is being praised, when in actual fact it is not.
For the record, no one is praising this movie. And if they are, they must have watched an entirely different movie to me.
Since the release of The Nan Movie, geek website Bleeding Cool has published an article speculating about some of the backstage problems with the film. There’s a bit of guess work here and there, but the long and short of it is that the movie was retooled during production and never quite finished.
It seems as if the project possibly began as a more serious film, which looked back at Joanie Taylor’s life. However, somewhere along the way it morphed into something more akin to a brash comedy and the more interesting side of the film fell by the wayside.
This is a huge shame, as all of the material focusing on Joanie’s early life is good. The film has a number of flashback sequences which explore the rift between Joanie and Nell, and this is where the film shines.
It is also where Catherine Tate gets to play a younger version of Nan, which is one of the movie’s strengths. Here Tate is able to do something different with the character, and the film offers up a look at the woman that Joanie once was.
But unfortunately, these flashbacks and character studies are few and far between. And just as they get going, the story snaps back to the present, and everything becomes suddenly less appealing as the action gets bogged down in piss jokes and fart gags.
The film then spends far too long faffing about, with various nonsensical plot contrivances taking over the story (Nan going on a bender, Nan and Jamie getting caught up with a vegan terrorist, etc). And because there is so much of this stuff thrown at the screen, any of the good will built up by the flashbacks gets completely overshadowed.
Then to make matters worse, at multiple points in the movie, entire scenes suddenly get replaced by crude animation. The piss-poor animation (and it really is piss-poor) is used to tie up plot points, so that the film can hastily move on.
Presumably the animation exists for the sole purpose of covering parts of the film that were not shot. Now, this could be a budget thing, it could be to do with COVID restrictions that impacted the production shoot, but whatever the reason, these sequences are atrocious, jarring, and should not be in this movie.
As soon as they appear it becomes evident this film has moved onto the wrong track and there’s no turning back. Whoever made the decision to include animated sequences seriously needs to have a word with themselves.
I can’t imagine anyone who watches this movie will feel entirely satisfied by the finish product. Even if they like it more than I did, this isn’t Grade-A material by any stretch of the imagination.
Yes, it could be argued that The Nan Movie is just a bit of irreverent fun, but if that’s the case, why bother with the flashbacks? Their inclusion in this movie makes it clear someone wants to elevate the lead character and her story, and this moves the whole film away from the idea of it just being throwaway fluff.
As noted above, The Nan Movie isn’t one of the worst movies ever made, as it is not Mandroid (1993), Steel (1997), Son of the Mask (2005), Cats (2019) or Fat Slags (2004), but it certainly won’t be winning any awards. Although, I expect it might get nominated for a few Razzies in the fullness of time.
Ultimately, the biggest issue with The Nan Movie is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be, and as a result, it never pulls off anything successfully. It is not quite an extended sketch, nor is it an engrossing drama, it’s a mish-mash and nothing more.
I genuinely believe there are some good ideas hidden in this movie, and they shouldn’t be completely written off, but the final product is incredibly flawed. Unless you have a strong desire to watch The Nan Movie, I suggest you give it a miss and go and see your own nan instead.