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Categories: Movie Reviews

The improv-based comedy has its moments, but it doesn’t always come together as a whole.

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Black Mountain Poets takes on one of comedy’s favorite subjects – the pretentiousness of performance poetry. Though I myself am often an enjoyer of freeform poems, there’s always room to make fun of verses that are pretty much just random words put together or blatantly obvious observations, and scenes in this improvised, low-budget comedy which have so-called “poets” stand at microphones to sincerely deliver strings of unrelated words are easy to laugh along with. The film as a whole? It’s a bit messy, but those who are intrigued by the premise might get a lot out of it.

Said premise sees two sister thieves, Lisa (Alice Lowe) and Claire (Dolly Wells), forced to go on the run after a failed attempt at stealing a JCB (yeah, I have no idea why either). After running through a field, they spot a car slowly passing by, and take the opportunity to steal it when its owners – The Wilding Sisters, noted poets – step out to admire the countryside. Once Lisa and Claire drive away, leaving the Wildings laughing in disbelief, they search the car and, discovering that the poets were on the way to a poetry retreat, decide to steal their identity and lie low for the weekend until a partner in crime arrives to rescue them.

Upon arriving at the retreat, Lisa and Claire meet an interesting group of amateur poets who have all gathered for a weekend full of camping, drinking and performing. Among these are David (Roger Evans), the organizer, Gareth (Richard Elis), who has invited his former student Louise (Rosa Robson) on the trip in the hopes of seducing her, and the striking Richard (Tom Cullen), to whom both Lisa and Claire take a liking. In pretending to be the Wilding Sisters, a renowned duo who are sort of the celebrity guests of honor at the retreat, the two are not only forced into awkward, tense situations in which their nonexistent poetic skills are tested, but are able to learn a little about themselves as well. 

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It’s a bit of an obvious plot direction for a film about poetry set on a weekend retreat, but having the sisters go through a bit of an introspective journey where they consider their less-than-ideal criminal lifestyle does bring a little bit of humanity to a film that would otherwise be a bit of a one-note idiot plot farce. That said, convoluted subplots involving the sisters’ fighting over Richard’s affection, as well as differing focus on the development of the other side characters, don’t help keep that direction a smooth one. Ultimately, the film builds to a confusing and disappointing ending – fitting, maybe, for a film about confusing poetry, but not the recipe for a satisfying comedy.

All that said, Black Mountain Poets is nicely shot and, most importantly, is notable for its – I believe entirely – improvised dialogue. Lowe and Wells are the clear standouts as the central sisters, their awkward attempts at fitting in with the group of poets coming off as much more relatable given the natural flow of their dialogue. Freeform dialogue like this is something I’d like to see more of in the future and, while it’s in service of a middling plot, it does mean the film is not without memorable moments. If you like the central premise of a farce about poetry, you might want to give this one a try.

Black Mountain Poets is out now on DVD. 

Cameron Johnson

Cameron Johnson is a writer and filmmaker born in England, based in Michigan, USA, and currently living in Enniscrone, Ireland. He writes about all things entertainment with a speciality in film criticism. He has been working on films ever since middle school, when his shorts "Moving Stateside" and "The Random News" competed in the West Branch Children's Film Festival. Since then he's written and directed a number of his own films and worked in many different crew jobs. Follow him on Twitter @GambasUK and look at his daily film diary at letterboxd.com/gambasUK.

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Posted on Apr 25, 2016

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