In the event of a nuclear catastrophe, few things are certain. But, perhaps, the least certain of all things is for a submarine to be re-branded as a two-star hotel called “The Fitzroy.” What’s more, people willingly choose to live there, which, even given the limited housing options of a nuclear wasteland, seems significantly less plausible than the nuclear disaster itself.
It’s from that implausibility that The Fitzroy, written and directed by Andrew Harmer, draws much of its appeal. Harmer’s vision of the post-apocalypse has culture frozen in early Cold War aesthetics, which extends from the Fitzroy’s décor—nautical Victorian—to the fashion. Bernard (Cerith Flinn), the movie’s milquetoast protagonist, is a bellboy of the old school, meaning he’s dressed like one of those monkeys that hold out a tin cup while its owner plays music. The design decisions make the movie immediately immersive on a superficial level, but immersive all the same.
“…a submarine to be re-branded as a two-star hotel…”
Bernard’s clientele is a cast of caricatures, though—in spite of a cameo by Charles Dickens, the master of caricatures—none of them are near as fun as they’re meant to be. Whether it’s the creepy doctor, the screeching maternal figure from hell, or the old lady who’s adorably senile, none them expand upon their initial concept. A great caricature will expand, expose, or elucidate a familiar personality, but Harmer presents his caricatures in an uncooked state. Perhaps, the most important of Bernard’s clients is Sonya (Jan Anderson), a bombshell of a lounge singer—she could have been peeled off the side of a WWII aircraft. Sonya certainly would have been on Bernard’s aircraft, given his feelings for her—feelings she’s too aware of for Bernard’s own good, or anybody’s own good.
All of this escalates further with the introduction of a hotel inspector, which, like so much of the movie, is a funny idea in theory, but fumbled. Watching a pudgy, middle-aged man maneuver the horrors of a nuclear wasteland in a gas mask just to inspect hotels is funny; watching the same man walk around the Fitzroy, squinting his eyes and making faces, is not. The comedy exists in suggestion and not on screen. As for what is on screen, it’s mostly flat, situational humor and uninspired slapstick—the opposite of Jerry Lewis’ The Bellboy, which came to mind more than once.
It should be said that Flinn, Anderson, and the rest of the actors operate at the appropriate pitch for a movie of this sort—three octaves higher than normal—and the interiors of the submarine are filled with character. On the surface, the movie is primed to be an eccentric gem, but, underneath the surface, The Fitzroy is stale and stagnant, literally and narratively. It’s a reminder that a good idea is only as good as the good idea that follows.
The Fitzroy (2018) Written and Directed by Andrew Harmer. Starring David Gant, Cerith Flinn, Stuart McGugan, Sarh Griffin, John Wark, Carol Robb, James Hamer-Morton, Norma Cohen, David Schaal, Ant Payne, Anne-Sophie Marie, Jan Anderson, Kenneth Collard.
5 out of 10 stars