A low-budget Scottish film filmed in four-and-a-half days about two musicians who hate each other handcuffed together for 24 hours that’s set against the backdrop of a huge music festival typically sounds like the the sort of fare any populist would avoid. And for the first 20 minutes, adjusting to the accents of the principals and listening to the excruitatingly raucus no-name bands in the background while the film finds its tone, You Instead is disorienting and ugly. But sometime around the time the Proclaimers take the stage and belt out “I Would Walk 500 Miles,” the movie finds its legs and settles into a more conventional narrative, elevating it above the typical rom-com beats even as it winds through a well-worn path.
David Mackenzie’s (Young Adam) You Instead centers on Adam and Morello, the lead singers of two different bands playing at the huge stadium musical festival. In the opening scenes, the two strangers get entangled in a contentious argument. Adam steals Morello’s jacket and she threatens to bash his guitar in. Out of nowhere, a man appears, slaps a pair of handcuffs on them, and says something about peace and love and music and deargodinsufferablecontrivance.
Once the narrative hook is disposed of, however, You Instead evolves into a lovely, if not slightly flimsy romance. Womanizing Adam (Luke Treadaway) and free-spirited Morello (Natalia Tena, Tonks from the Harry Potter films) hate each other in the beginning, so you absolutely know how they will feel about each other by the end. There is additional wrinkle to the romantic-comedy formula, however, in that Adam and Morello develop their affection for one another not only while handcuffed together but while they are drinking and debauching with their significant others. Adam is involved with a super-model, and Morello with a banker, and both the banker and super-model are present during the first two acts in a forced double-date situation. In fact, the foursome bonds over dancing, rides on the Big Wheel, and more dancing before narrative convenience breaks them apart.
What sets You Instead apart from a more sugary Richard Curtis effort, however, isn’t the narrative so much as the attitude, the hand-held cameras, and the atmosphere of the music festival, which includes performances from people I’m led to believe are familiar to audiences in the UK. Nevertheless, the acting performances are on the meek side, particularly that of Treadaway, who lacks the charisma to be playing the magnetic frontman for a huge festival band. Tena is the more compelling figure, both gruff and alluring, something akin to a more attractive Lili Taylor of “Joe Lies” fame. She and Treadaway have one remarkable performance together, a soaring mash-up that takes amusing advantage of the fact the two are handcuffed together.
You Instead is a romantic comedy for people who don’t want to admit to liking romantic comedies. It’s intentions are disguised underneath its setting and its low-budget camera-work, which lends it a thin veneer of authenticity, but only in contrast to the more glossy studio efforts with which we’re more accustomed. Whether you find that a backhanded compliment or a backhanded insult, and how You Instead might sit well with you, largely depends on your view of grand romantic gestures.