Since Stephen Frears' My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), contemporary British cinema has often strived to concoct a pleasant sort of gay film – one mixing sweet love, a dash of race and class politics, and a modestly budgeted, TV-style look.
Like It Is follows the rocky romance between Craig (Steve Bell), a working class lad with a talent for boxing, and Matt (Ian Rose), upwardly mobile groover in clubland.
In its early scenes, Like It Is seems to shape up as a '70s-style essay on the links between repressed homosexuality and violent sports. The cut from Craig's first attempt at sex with Matt to his fury in the boxing ring serves as a fairly tepid reminder of the complex psycho-sexual dynamics underpinning Scorsese's Raging Bull (1980).
But Craig cannot get Matt out of his mind, so he hastily rearranges his life and hot-foots it to swinging London. Here the film changes course and becomes a light study of modern relationships – with true love tested at every turn by the temptations offered by a glitzy showbiz world of clubs, promoters and parties.
As in Little Voice (1998), this milieu is rendered in an oddly unreal way, as if the filmmakers are not very familiar with it. The malevolent club manager, Kelvin (Roger Daltrey), presents his latest discovery as "the next Beatles", and we witness the hysteria of Matt's flatmate, Paula (Dani Behr) in search of her "next number one hit" – but they all look like clumsy amateurs swanning around in small-time clubs and low-class videos.
Such unconvincing artifice sometimes affects the performances, too. Bell (a real-life boxer) has natural presence, but too many shots leave him looking blank for too long. Next to him, Rose is all slick, mannered, polished professionalism – which makes for a rather grating lack of on-screen romantic rapport.
The film belongs to its character actors: Christopher Hargreaves (as Craig's brother) has a swearing scene worthy of Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), while Daltrey makes a meal of his bitchy lines and knowing glances. As often in British cinema, it is the incidental pleasures afforded by such relaxed, low key naturalism – rather than director Paul Oremland's occasional attempts at narrative drive or arty effect – which charm the viewer.
© Adrian Martin September 1999