Friday, November 27, 2009

An Ice Cream War Leads to a Meaningful Life in "Comfort and Joy"

Scottish filmmaker Bill Forsyth's quirky comedies Gregory's Girl (1981) and Local Hero (1983) made him a critics' favorite. So, it was quite a surprise when this follow-up effort garnered lukewarm reviews. I think Comfort and Joy is a much warmer, funnier film than its predecessors (though not funny in a laugh-out-loud way). And I put no stock in those bland reviews, such as the one in which Variety made disparaging remarks about its “conventional plot.” Conventional? Just how many movies have been made about warring ice cream companies?

Bill Paterson stars as Alan, a Glasgow radio disc jockey whose comfortable life receives a sudden jolt when his kleptomaniac girlfriend Maddy (Eleanor David) leaves him shortly before Christmas. After four years of living together, she starts packing one evening and explains to Alan casually: “I meant to tell you ages ago.”

Alan is devastated. His best friend Colin (Patrick Malahide) tries to convince him that he has been “handed a new life.” So, when a girl in a Mr. Bunny ice cream truck smiles at him, Alan follows her—only to see the vehicle attacked by masked men with bats. The Mr. Bunny employees repel their assailants with ice cream and syrup, although one masked man pauses during his escape to ask Alan to broadcast a radio dedication to his mother.

Alan learns that the attackers work for Mr. McCool, a rival ice cream company. He soon finds himself acting as a mediator between warring factions. It’s a role that gives a new purpose to his life. Or, as Alan explains to his boss: “I wasn't myself before, but you thought I was myself. But now, I am myself. Or very nearly. My life was the wrong flavor. I was raspberry when I should have been vanilla.”

Bill Paterson's charming performance, Forysth's quirky characters, and the unexpected unraveling of the plot blend together to create a consistently amusing picture. Its greatest strength, however, lies in the humor created by Forysth's central theme: Nothing is as it seems. Forsyth starts by showing us an apparently happy couple, but later reveals that one of them has been planning to end the relationship for some time. In another scene, Alan spies a beautiful woman across the aisle from him in a store. He thinks she's flirting with him, but when she moves from behind the aisle, he sees that she is pushing a baby carriage and smiling at the baby strapped on her chest. The same theme even extends to the Mr. Bunny-Mr. McCool war. Charlotte, the French-speaking co-owner of Mr. Bunny has an unexpected connection with Mr. McCool, who's Italian and not Scottish (as his name implies).

Quirky films often don't stand the test of time, but this odd little movie has stayed with me over the years…right down to the catchy Mr. Bunny ice cream truck music.


  1. Who couldn't like a movie with lotsa ice cream? Great review, Rick, as always!

  2. Never seen this one, Rick. It sounds like a good film to watch when I'm in the mood for quirky. Thanks for the good review and idea for a new movie to keep an eye out for.

  3. Rick, I have never heard of this SWEET,;) little film.. I hope they play it on TCM soon.

  4. Do do do do DO do. Do do do do do. Do do do do do DO do. Hello Folks!

    What is listed above is the very memorable Mr. Bunny ice cream truck music, not an example of senility. Now, however, I really, really want ice cream. And my husband and I left some very good Bonnie Doon's ice cream back home at my parents' house where we visited for Thanksgiving. But it is eleven hours away. Sigh.

    I really liked this movie. It is unconventional and quite fun to think of warring ice cream vendors. Excellent choice and write-up, Rick. You don't happen to have any ice cream you could send my way, do you? Pretty please, with hot fudge and oodles of whipped cream on top?