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Hunky Dory

2011 | 110 min

Hunky Dory


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Theatrical release date

 22 March, 2013
 02 March, 2012

Country of origin

 United States

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Hunky Dory


Hunky Dory Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, November 15, 2012

Minnie Driver has always struck me as a freshly animated, appealing actress with an interesting range and askew emotional sensitivity that’s helped her to stand out in a crowded field of competition. She hasn’t enjoyed a substantial film role in quite some time, perhaps dating back to 2003’s “Owning Mahowny,” which makes her latest movie, the English picture “Hunky Dory,” something special even if the overall effort isn’t remarkable. An amiable endeavor boasting a soundtrack of rock hits from the 1970s, “Hunky Dory” has a spark that never catches fire, leaving the bulk of its personality up to Driver and her interesting take on the often strange moods of this coming-of-age musical drama.

In 1976, Viv (Minnie Driver) is a drama teacher trying to make her mark inside a difficult school located in a small Welsh town. Hoping to mount a production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” scored to popular music, Viv is met with a class of half-interested students distracted by their own troubles, while the staff, including judgmental teacher Valentine (Haydn Gwynne), causes endless trouble for the big show, fearing attention to music robs the children of a true education. With the Headmaster (Robert Pugh) watching her every move, Viv soldiers on with the big show, straining to keep her students on task. However, as the summer days set in, lead Davey (Aneurin Barnard) is having difficulty accepting the loss of his crush, Stella (Danielle Branch), while the rest of the class deals with questions of sexuality and domestic stability as the performance, and all its pressure, approaches.

Reportedly conceived before “Glee,” it’s easy to see how “Hunky Dory” found financing, with the songs for the high school reworking of “The Tempest” pulled from artists such as E.L.O., David Bowie, and Nick Drake, performed by Driver and the cast. The rehearsal scenes, where the teens feel out the emotions of the popular tunes, is the most blatantly marketable aspect of the production, and director Marc Evans (“Snow Cake”) exploits them in a satisfactory manner. Hearing the kids belt out the hits is harmless fun, with Driver getting into the act to prove herself worthy in the vocal department (after her stint as a pop artist), creating a sellable soundtrack of covers from tender voices, miles away from their original incarnations. Additionally, the tunes convey emotions clearly, lubricating stiff communication issues between the teenagers as they gather for practice despite personal issues driving them apart.

The broken home and heartbreak subplots are less convincing, tackling formulaic revelations of self and family, with the saga of Davey and Stella taking center stage as the pair splinter off on their own romantic journeys. However, Davey’s quest is slightly more disconcerting, soon turning his attention to Viv after flushing Stella out of his system, building to a curiously unsettling moment where the teacher grants her pupil a moment of flirtation without encouraging a full-fledged affair. In a picture of rather routine developments, this sticks out as a genuine risk in characterization I wish the film indulged more. Driver plays Viv with such elastic charm and peppered determination (and salty academic exasperation), it’s easy to understand the gravitational pull towards her. The actress also makes room for Viv’s vulnerability, finding the teacher and former drama student still mourning the loss of her beloved father.

“Hunky Dory” weaves through setbacks and arguments, making its way to a grand finale that pays off the experience with a bold shot of music and backyard theatricality, infused with a bittersweet coda revealing what became of the kids after their experience with Viv. The “Glee” formula is sure to bring “Hunky Dory” attention with music lovers, while its clichéd dramatics will have trouble sustaining that concentration. Lively work from Driver aids digestion, but it’s not a film that can hold a tune for very long.

Starring: Minnie Driver, Aneurin Barnard, Danielle Branch, Haydn Gwynne, Steve Speirs
Director: Marc Evans

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