After one too many failed attempts at chatting up women, Ian (Richard E Grant) decides enough is enough and throws himself in front of a train, but not before sending a video message to his sad-sack best friend James (Simon Phillips), imploring him to do all he can to “get out there” and become more successful with women, lest he grow old alone. James stumbles upon pick-up guru Ampersand (yes, really), who becomes Jedi Knight to his Padawan learner, teaching him how to be more confident in speaking with women, in the hope that James might be able to win the heart of Hannah (Gemma Atkinson), who he has loved since forever.


There are shades of all sorts of other films within HTSBAL, the most obvious being Will Smith/Kevin James comedy vehicle Hitch, with a desperate, but at heart quite kind nerd looking for a way to win the heart of a seemingly unattainable woman under the tutelage of a more confident man. With Amerpersand (a genuinely hilarious Craig Conway), the alarmingly and bafflingly successful ladies man who takes James under his wing, we even have echoes of Tom Cruise’s Frank TJ Mackey from Magnolia, as he unleashes a barrage of profanity at a seminar on how to pick up women, before the lights come up and we realise that the only attendees are James and an elderly gentleman who thought he had stumbled into Pensioner’s Night at the social club. Although Ampersand is inevitably crass, stupid and crude, Conway manages to keep him just the right side of unpleasant and he winds up competing commendably with Phillips for some of the film’s bigger laughs, (“I think this is the worst party in the history of mankind” he says, at a party for James and his Warrior Quest-playing buddies).

Phillips, although far from the biggest name in the credits list, is very much the star in terms of screen time and he gives an excellent account of himself here. The earlier scenes, with James presented as a deeply entrenched nerd, provide the funniest moments including one scene where he attempts to talk to a friend of a friend in a bar, but winds up slurping her wine through his straw, explaining the difference between a mage and a wizard before announcing that he needs a wee. It is very much in the vein of the long-established comedy tradition of awkwardness and embarrassment and pretty much every time he opens his mouth to speak you are watching with baited breath, wondering where he will go wrong next. For example:-

“I’m James”

“Like James Bond?”

“Well, yes.”

“I’m Clarissa”

“Like Chloroform?”

He then tells Ampersand that he was just trying not to say “like Chlamydia?” Which would not have been any better. It is exchanges like this that elevates this film far above all manner of low-budget efforts that I have sat through lately and it goes to show that budgetary constraints are no hindrance to a decent end product, if you have a proper idea, can write a good script and can find convincing actors to read the lines.

Unfortunately, the film is not an unqualified success, with tonal problems being the worst culprit. At times the film is presented as a straight comedy of awkwardness and embarrassment, at others it drifts into crudeness and vulgarity, with occasional segues into surrealism and a final (and frustratingly conventional) dash-to-the-airport romantic comedy showdown. Similarly, the script seems unsure about how to handle Hannah as a character. She comes across initially as quite sweet, though unattainable, before developing into demanding, controlling, manipulative and selfish. It makes her in the end feel like a bit of a plot device rather than a fully-formed character, though to a degree that is testimony to how well-rounded the rest of the characters are; in a lesser film, Hannah would not stick out like she does here.

Although HTSBAL doesn’t get many marks for originality, it does what it does very well and generates the laughs for which it is clearly aiming. We are given relatively believable characters, a decent sprinkle of good lines and set pieces and some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. If the overall conclusion can be seen coming a mile off, it is no less satisfying for it, though slightly more judicious editing would have been welcome to bring the film down to the 90-minute mark.

Director Dominic Burns has Airborne coming out soon, which couldn’t look more different from HTSBAL, hopefully testimony to his creativity and versatility. Certainly he has done an admirable job here with pretty meagre financial resources, with particular credit for coaxing a thoroughly convincing and endearing performance out of Phillips, who succeeds (much like the film) in being funny, awkward (a couple of David Brent-esque dance routines are particular highlights) and sweet in all of the right places. Hopefully this film will find the success it deserves.


P.S. Careful with the trailer, it’s NSFW.

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Dave has been writing for HeyUGuys since mid-2010 and has found them to be the most intelligent, friendly, erudite and insightful bunch of film fans you could hope to work with. He's gone from ham-fisted attempts at writing the news to interviewing Lawrence Bender, Renny Harlin and Julian Glover, to writing articles about things he loves that people have actually read. He has fairly broad tastes as far as films are concerned, though given the choice he's likely to go for Con Air over Battleship Potemkin most days. He's pretty sure that 2001: A Space Odyssey is the most overrated mess in cinematic history.