SXSW 2011 Review: YOU INSTEAD
David Mackenzie’s latest directorial effort, YOU INSTEAD, captures the effervescence and madness of one of the world’s biggest music festivals, refracted back through the lens of one whirlwind anti-romance. Bumping heads almost immediately, it doesn’t look as if Adam (Luke Treadaway) and Morello (Natalia Tena) have much in common. Adam is a big-time American pop rock star who dates a soulless female model, Morello is a struggling mid-level UK rock chick that dates a banker. But Adam and Morello both believe in the power of music and its ability to connect people, so it’s no surprise that the two are going to end up bonding intensely through their fundamentally wacky adventure. The warring bandleaders find themselves handcuffed to each other thanks to a musical prophet who binds them together, convinced that music could save them, and can save all of us.
The film feels close in trajectory and soul to something like Gareth Edwards’ MONSTERS, another SXSW favorite from 2010. But instead of tossing our two leads together to navigate a foreign land filled with aliens, Mackenzie puts together two people and forces them to traverse the equally as bizarre terrain of a music festival and its just as out-there inhabitants. YOU INSTEAD almost immediately jumps into our meet-cuffed conceit, letting the film launch straight into the adventure awaiting us.
Shot on location at Scotland’s massive T in the Park music festival, Mackenzie’s footage of the other happenings around the festival only add to the sense of madness and joy in the film, the very of-the-moment spirit that flows through it. Interspersing the action between Adam and Morello with glimpses of everything else that is going on involves the audience on both a personal and a visceral level. The film’s location also serves as a great technical benefit, as its setting is filled with great situational lighting – from the carnival rides spinning against the night sky, to the sun rising above a mud-filled field.
The film also features a number of smaller subplots with supporting characters who are, quite often, just as interesting to watch as Adam and Morello. Morello’s bandmates in the Dirty Pinks have their own romantic entanglements, Adam’s synth-playing best friend Tyko (Mathew Baynton) is looking for love too, the Make’s manager is a drunken train wreck, and all that doesn’t even include what’s going on with the eco-warriors constantly on the fringes of the Make’s entourage. The great mass of humanity at T in the Park are all represented in here somewhere, and it makes YOU INSTEAD feel much fuller than such a specific plotline may imply.
Of course, music is of the utmost importance in YOU INSTEAD. We open with the Make conducting a vehicular acoustic set, only later learning just how synth-driven and techno-influenced their music actually is. The Dirty Pinks are a great, raucous, girl power group with a wide skill set. When the bands started mingling together on stage, it’s sonic magic. It sounds good and, more than anything, it feels good.
Character motivations are not the film’s strong suit, with an early twist coming on because of a choice Adam makes that seems a bit inexplicable at the time, but other factors more than make up for the film’s slips. Treadaway and Tena have fantastic chemistry, and are a joy to watch fall in something close to love. YOU INSTEAD offers a number of insights into what that sort of love means – notes on codependency and partnership, the importance of physical proximity, and what it means to be connected to someone all run through the film.
Clocking in at a tight eighty minutes, the film never wavers from being incredibly fun and invigoratingly vital. It’s an exceedingly enjoyable departure for Mackenzie, whose last film, Sundance pick PERFECT SENSE, was miles more cerebral and not anything that anyone would classify as “fun.” While YOU INSTEAD does not necessarily surprise in terms of plot, it does surprise when it comes to just how delightful, joyous, and charming it is.