The Loneliest Boy in the World [Grimmfest Review]: Whimsy at Six Feet Under
The 80s have been riding high in the pop culture zeitgeist for a while now, and its charms and sensibilities are pasted all over this pastel-palleted, coming-of-age zombie comedy. The Loneliest Boy in the World weaves a retro-styled, modern fairytale narrative about sweet and naive Oliver (Max Harwood), a sheltered young man who has lived in isolation since the death of his mother and has recently returned to the family home after a brief stint in an institute.
Now living on his own, he spends his time rewatching his mum’s favourite show, Alf, in the warm protective pink womb of the living room. He is given seven days to make friends by his court-ordered social workers, Julius (Evan Ross) and Margot (Ashley Benson), or it’s back to the asylum. It’s a tight deadline for the socially awkward Oliver, but, after a visit to his mum’s blank, heart-shaped gravestone, he finally gets an idea. Overhearing a mother’s eulogy to her son, Oliver hears that poor deceased Mitch (Hero Fiennes Tiffin) was everybody’s friend, so why couldn’t he be Oliver’s? So the decision is made to grab a shovel, head back to the graveyard late at night, and dig himself up a buddy. But Oliver doesn’t stop there, he decides to complete the set and unearth himself a full, sitcom-perfect family. With a magical polaroid camera flash, his new family is re-animated and the lonely boy is not so lonely anymore.
Misadventure ensues, in true sitcom style, as this unorthodox family have to hide their missing limbs and rotting flesh from the pleasant world around them, whilst still getting dinner on the table in time and building up Oliver’s confidence in himself. Mother Susanne (Susan Wokoma) dotes on Oliver, Father Frank (Ben Miller) protects him, Big Brother Mitch teaches him about girls and Little Sister Mel (Zenobia Williams) makes sure to torment Oliver, as younger siblings should. They are the perfect TV family that wants nothing but the best for their grave-robbing host.
The lessons that Oliver learns from his undead 50’s family set him up for the real world, including a true fairytale romance with a blue-haired newcomer to the town of Hubris, Chloe (Tallulah Haddon), who sees something sweet in the overly honest and ever-naive Oliver. As they connect Oliver reveals the traumatic, yet intensely hilarious, way he lost his mother. A flashback takes us into the pastel dream world of his back garden during a dusky pink sunset. His mother (Carol Anne Watts) lounges on an inflatable, floating in her above-ground pool watching her favourite sitcom on the television that was placed precariously on the side. Everyone can guess what’s coming, the TV is knocked into the pool, sparks go flying and Oliver’s mother goes flying either further, free falling straight onto Oliver’s favourite garden gnome, its cute, little hat erupting from her like a chestburster. He loses his mother, his gnome is arrested and potentially sent to the electric chair, and his world was forever changed. It’s this combination of insane fantasy, whimsical humour and hidden darkness that makes The Loneliest Boy in the World such a charming and enjoyable film.
“It’s Wes Anderson, meets Tim Burton, Weekend at Bernie’s meets Life After Beth, all told through a dusky, rose-tinted lens and grounded by great performance all around.”
The production design is whimsical as hell, shot mixing designed sets and real locations with post-production adding the quaint, pastel effect, it really is a feat of practical filmmaking. The make-up and prosthetics add a little twist of gross to the quirky and picturesque world of this film. Adding to this is a score that sounds like a music box of dread, light and childlike but with a tone of danger, and of course, some amped-up 80s synth thrown in for good measure. The overall tone is saccharine sweet but with a little unhinged energy just below the surface too, perfectly created by the crew and encapsulated in the script by Piers Ashworth.
Director Martin Owen creates an interesting world that is visually delightful and holds a sweet coming-of-age story at its heart about knowing and loving who you are and overcoming grief with the help of those around you. There may be some b-plots that don’t stick the landing, and a few coincidences that are just to keep the story moving, but none of these stop this film from being a treat for the eyes and even quite emotional at points. It’s Wes Anderson, meets Tim Burton, Weekend at Bernie’s meets Life After Beth, all told through a dusky, rose-tinted lens and grounded by great performance all around. It’ll leave your undead heart feeling thoroughly warmed.