Sunday, March 13, 2011

NUTS IN MAY (1976) - Mike Leigh

The chatty, granola couple at the center of Nuts in May probably seemed a new, alien breed back in '76. But if you live anywhere near Park Slope, Brooklyn circa 2011 you might recognize them as the norm, those shopping at the Park Slope Food Co-op, playing the banjo or Frisbee golf in Prospect Park, hectoring the local Korean deli owner for not carrying fair trade gluten-free something or other (locally-sourced, of course). Well, Keith and Candice Marie are the '70s British version of the same but with less money. They quite can't afford to go to backpacking in Goa or Cambodia. They go camping in Dorset instead.

Nuts in May finds Leigh in a looser, more whimsical mood than Hard Labour and Bleak Moments. Most of this TV film involves the couple sticking to their daily schedule of hiking, fossil-hunting, foraging the local countryside for non-pasteurized milk from an "accredited herd." Trouble for the couple comes in the form of some lower-class campers who arrive near their site wanting nothing more than to pitch a quick tent, play their radios loud, drink beer and smoke cigarettes. Keith and Candice Marie reluctantly befriend them with affably condescending lectures about noise pollution, the gastrointestinal rewards of a meatless diet, a few cheesy banjo ditties. Keith and Candice Marie may have smiles on their faces, but you know their middle-class back-to-nature Eden has been compromised. The snakes in their garden aren't snakes, just everyday joes.

While Nuts in May isn't laugh out loud funny, it is quietly amusing in a stealthy kind of way, a deceptively gentle satire with an acid bitter aftertaste. Roger Sloman provides most of the laughs as the loquacious fountain of useless trivia, Keith. He's an actor you'll recognize if, like me, you're a fan of The Young Ones where he had a number of walk-on parts ("Right Bleeding Bastard," for one). His militant naturalism, aggressive geniality and quickness to pick up the nearest fallen tree branch in violence is the contradiction, Leigh seems to suggest, that lies at the not-so-gooey center of many a die-hard granola head.

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