Here we have the hit of the Beloit Film Festival, a twee little nothing of a British road comedy contrived to tickle, now and again, and nothing more.
“Above the Clouds” finally earns wide release via the many content-starved free streaming TV platforms (Tubi is where I caught it), just the sort of movie easily lost or passed over pre-Pandemic. For instance, I don’t know that it was a hit in Beloit, Wisconsin, just that it played there. In 2019.
It’s about a quirky, mildly rebellious only child, played with perk and pluck and patter by Naomi Morris. Charlotte or “Charlie” calls her parents by their first names, rejects Dad Jack’s edict that “Art’s NOT a career,” and is late again for her seaside café waitress job in Margate.
But but but it’s her BIRTHDAY. “You’re 18 today,” the boss grumps. “Time to grow up!”
Charlie is 18, and pondering the misery of realizing “What if this is IT?”
She ponders this to a smelly wino she sits next to as she contemplates her favorite painting, a diptych of two panels, one a grey gloomy city below, the other of bright light above fluffy, happy clouds.
Oz (Andrew Murton) opines that “even if you’re being pissed on down here, it’s always sunny above the clouds.” And don’t worry about him — homeless, unwashed, “invisible” to a public that’s learned to look right through him.
“I’ve got most of my wits and a near-new sleeping bag. I’m winning!”
Charlie remembers that when her parents jet off on an anniversary holiday, when she stumbles across a birthday card her mother (Cordelia Bujega) hid from her, a card signed “Dad” but not in her dull father’s (Glen McReady) handwriting. When she rummages more and realizes her “real” dad is some fellow named Malone who lives in Scotland, and her lone friend from work (Leah Hackett) turns down her pitch that they go “find him,” she has another use for the articulate, homeless wino.
He’s the “responsible adult” who can ride with her and finish off her driving lessons as she takes the new Fiat 500 Dad Jack left for her in the garage north to find her TRUE genetic origins.
“On the road and off the leash” she’ll be, in one of those illogical leaps only a screen comedy would try to pass off.
Charlie ponders if her “real” dad might “be an earl, or an actor” as she poor-mouths the bore who helped raise her and gave her the car. Oz makes important decisions via a process he calls “I ask the Queen.” He tosses a coin. And he tries to impress the teen with his worldly wisdom.
Two big moments in every kid’s life? “The first is when you realize you parents aren’t always right. And the second is when you realize they aren’t always wrong.”
The kid isn’t phased.
But “that’s brought grown men to tears, that one.”
So Charlie, an aspiring artist (their trip is illustrated on a diorama map, with a toy yellow Fiat) will seek her true origins and genetic destiny, that which explains how she turned out, and Oz, in bits and pieces, will reveal why he doesn’t like cars, how he reached this station in life, his sad sad secret.
“Above the Clouds” is more a movie you don’t mind sitting through than one you fully embrace. The comic “obstacles” are cute enough. There just aren’t enough of them, and they never quite take it over the top.
Sheltered Charlotte has never filled up a car in her life. Thus, the Fiat lives up to its legendary acronym nickname in the English speaking world — “Fix It Again, Tony.” The ill-tempered Scotts mechanic (Gordon Kennedy) she leaves “th’wee yellow casualty” with is worth a few laughs.
“Did you find the problem?”
“I’m lookin’ at it.” No, lass, diesel isn’t the same as petrol.
Breaking down in the dark at a spot the locals use for “snogging” assignations throws them in the path of a loopy lonely sexual adventurer (Ian Bustard).
More bits like this, a few standard road comedy “see the sights” moments, would have livened up the script Simon Lord conjured out of director Leon Chambers’ malnourished story idea. Scenery and mildly-amusing banter isn’t enough.
Virtually everything in this road comedy feels contrived, even the payoff to the “mysteries.” But Murton and Morris, making her screen debut, make the ride pleasant if not the least bit surprising.
MPAA Rating: unrated, profanity, sexual situations
Cast: Naomi Morris, Andrew Murton, William Jackson, Leah Hackett, Ian Bustard, Gordon Kennedy and Peter Hannah
Credits: Directed by Leon Chambers, script by Simon Lord. A Third Light film, now on Tubi and other free platforms.
Running time: 1:27