As seen through the eyes of Fraser (Robert Norman), the ten-year old Scottish lad to whose life the title refers, Edward Pettigrew (Colin Firth) is one of those good-natured family guys you tend to find in movies. Adored by his loving wife Moira (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), Fraser, and his many other children, Edward’s an eccentric happy-go-lucky inventor who doesn’t quite fit into the upper class into which he’s married. While his shrewdly ambitious and shamelessly wealthy brother-in-law Morris (a perfectly cast Malcolm McDowell) has scarcely hidden designs on the luxurious family estate, an ancient Scottish castle called Kiloran, Edward is perfectly content to eek out an income harvesting the plentiful moss from the lush countryside, processing it in his unique factory, and selling it throughout the continent for a variety of uses. Still, under the stern but loving eye of “Ganna,” the family matriarch, all seems well enough…until “Uncle” Morris takes Eloise, a lithe French beauty less than half his age, as a bride. As Edward regresses, consumed by lust for his familial rival’s young bride, he distances himself from Moira and treats Fraser harshly. This has the ironic effect of helping the impressionable young boy slowly come of age. To our considerable amusement, Fraser more or less teaches himself about such finer things in life as sex, cigars and jazz.
Set in Scotland in the late 1920s, “My Life So far” is a charming and well-crafted film with an interesting dual perspective. As seen through the innocence of Fraser’s childhood, everyone is good. He’s his dad’s buddy, he worships his “mumsy,” fears and respects his grandmother, thinks Uncle Morris is a hoot, and has a crush on Eloise. Director Hugh Hudson (“Chariots of Fire”) mirrors this moral equality with the ambiguity an adult audience experiences towards the characters. We see both their good and bad sides. Jovial Edward hides darkly repressed sexual urges for Eloise. Boisterous and charming Morris is also a conniving manipulator, and so on. As refreshing as it is to see real characters with depth and unresolved moral shades of gray, we can’t help but envy the innocence Fraser clings to, knowing that he’ll eventually, inevitably grow out of it.
Although suffering somewhat from several underdeveloped plot threads as well as an ending that’s all too abrupt and unsatisfying, the beautifully photographed “My Life So Far” is nonetheless an enjoyable film uniquely untarnished by Hollywood’s prerequisite coming-of-age story filters. – Merle Bertrand