Movie Review: Brit Comic Catherine Tate unleashes “The Nan Movie

Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence had “Mama’s Family,” Tyler Perry had “Madea.” Brit comic actress Catherine Tate’s “Nan,” a character from her self-titled sketch comedy series, is pitched somewhere in between, a crude and coarse vulgarian who must be pushing 90 and simply must have her own way.

“The Nan Movie” takes the character out into the open air and on a road trip up the UK, over to Ireland and further “over” to “The Island off’a Ireland,” a quest comedy that drags the old crank to see her “dying” sister one last time.

The locals hated this urine-soaked/fart-scented farce when “Nan” played in Limeyland. But on this side of The Pond, it’s a curiosity that might appeal to a certain sort of Anglophile — someone anxious to maintain one’s ear for “Oy!” and “O, ‘ello sweet’art” cockney English and interested in what comic sacred cows they’re slaughtering Over There these days.

OK, maybe that’s just me.

“Nan” is a shambolic, episodic pig of a film, snuffling about for comic truffles via the braying, screeching cackle of Tate at her Nanniest. It has no “credited” director, and therein lies a story, we fear.

But there are a few chuckles and giggles here and there as Tate, in old age makeup that takes her nowhere near the pushing-100 Joanie Taylor would need to be to have been born when her dad drove a horse-drawn wagon for work and she was old enough to date an American GI during World War II.

Nan bursts onto the screen in a walking, charming and insulting ramble through her local street market with her grandson, Jamie (Matthew Horne, who was on “The Catherine Tate Show” and the earlier “Catherine Tate’s Nan” TV movie).

She coos and compliments food vendors, tossing and dismissing their offerings the moment their back is turned. She spies a statue of a man she admired and ruthlessly haggles for it.

“Why do you have a statue of Robert Mugabe,” her neighbor wants to know?

“IS it? Shame. I thought it was Trevor McDonald. E’S my FAVORITE!”

Jamie is an animator whose latest hustle is an arts and crafts van that visits rehab centers — “Crafts Undo Negative Thinking,” it’s called. Pay no mind to the acronym that creates, luv.

Nan isn’t keen on her neighbors, whom she’s decided are “naturalists” (nudists) thanks to the organic produce she sees delivered there. And that letter from her sister mixed in with the unpaid bills and summons in her mail doesn’t move her. Nelly is dying? So?

“Miserable old ‘ore, went to live on an island off of Ireland. The END!”

But Jamie figures she needs to see her and that he can trick the tippling, loud and obnoxious old bat into taking a road trip. And there’s our movie.

Nan interrupts her club, pub and rave-crashing hijincks and her renewal of hostilities with nemesis Mahler (Niki Wardley, another veteran Tate co-star), who is now “a traffic warden” (meter maid/traffic cop) to tell the story of how she and Nelly (Katherine Parkinson) grew up and fell out.

Yes, there was a GI involved, and “oy, ‘e was Black!”

‘Ave you ever met Al Jolson?” is the first question that pops into WWII Joanie’s head. By the time she’s old enough to be a “Nan” she’s a lot more politically correct. About the stories her father used to tell about magical creatures he encountered growing up in Ireland, for instance.

“A’course ye can’t say LEPRECHAUNS no more. Just say ‘Irish.'”

The humor is based on elderly bodily function issues, a few sight gags that never quite become pratfalls and a sort of aged Brexiteer tone-deafness about race (not really), cross-dressing (think Izzard, Eddie) and animal rights activism.

“Violent, angry and dangerous — everything you’d want in a vegan!”

I have a high tolerance for any road trip comedy set in Britain and/or Ireland, but the jokes here go over like a fart at a funeral, only less funny. A running gag about Nan’s infatuation with the “Shabooya! Roll Call!” call and response game is a non-starter, and it’s not alone. Animated (by “my Jamie”) interstitials covering chunks of the road trip, stuff that would require sets and stunts etc. that they didn’t want to bother with, are meant to look like they were amateurishly-filmed with face-contorting cell phone apps and simply do not play.

There’s a chuckle or two from drunkenly telling the traffic warden “Glad you’ve maintained that snap-on ‘airdo. Looks like a LEGO ‘at, don’t it?”

Is Nan aware she’s drunk and disorderly?

“Are you aware how much like k.d. lang you look?”

But that’s about it, dear. Whatever comic gold there was in there character was mined out long ago. Movies like “Nan” remind one that Madea had no more luck outstaying her welcome than Nan does.

Rating: unrated, profanity, scatological humor

Cast: Catherine Tate, Matthew Horne, Katherine Parkinson, Jack Doolan, Parker Sawyers and Niki Wardley

Credits: Directed by Josie Rourke (uncredited), scripted by Catherine Tate and Brett Goldstein. A Screen Media release of a Warner Brothers film.

Running time: 1:35

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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