The publicity material for this interesting but flawed British film makes a great deal of fuss over its many limitations. Shot in two days, on a budget of £20,000.00, due to be released on DVD and online download, all of which is very commendable. So commendable that it seems incredibly and unkindly churlish to find fault with the end product. A few recognisable faces from British TV have been roped in (actors such as Lesley Joseph and Eva Pope, presenters and game show hosts like Terry Christian, Roy Walker and Gordon Burns) and everyone concerned seems to have thrown themselves into the experiment with laudable enthusiasm. Roy Walker even throws in his best lines from Catchphrase (“say what you see”, “it’s good but it’s not right”), cast bizarrely as a psychology professor from the University of Manchester.
Like so many flawed but interesting projects, it has a strong idea at its core – a man sells himself on eBay (never mentioned by name, but clearly intended) and in the process discovers the truth about the venality, selfishness and superficiality of those around him – but doesn’t really know what to do with it. The issues that are supposed to be alluded to – human trafficking – are never drilled down into, instead it is left to the closing credits to flash up screens showing people trying to sell their children or elderly relatives or virginity. These important issues deserve to have attention drawn to them, but the film simply does not do that, even if it meant to. There is one scene where John ventures into his front garden for a rant about the meaningless of all of this, that he will soon be forgotten and that none of them really care, but it doesn’t lead anywhere. He goes back into the house and nothing comes of it. No-one has any sort of epiphany, none of the characters offer a voice of reason or contrast, nothing much happens.
Some dramatic tension is generated by the ticking clock element of the end of the auction and the corresponding real time format of the film. John has entered a reserve price that becomes crucial towards the end, but by then the film has run out of ideas and does not know where to go. Unlike similarly themed films such as EdTV and The Truman Show, Being Sold lacks a clear idea of the point it is trying to make and is unable to develop its core premise in interesting or novel ways. The pacing is fine (a slightly abrupt finish brings it in at 1h15m) and although most of the acting performances are pretty ropey, with such an absurdly low budget the director (Phil Hawkins) should be praised for getting the cast he did. I’ve certainly see worse.
I genuinely dislike being critical, but similarly I hate seeing a good idea go to waste on account of poor writing, acting and story development. Hopefully the film will meet with enough success to cover its costs, but it is difficult to imagine it being a runaway success. If you fancy checking it out (and I’m not going to recommend that you do), you can order the DVD or download the film and watch a documentary about the making of the film here.