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Non-Review Review: One Chance

It’s very easy to dismiss reality television. Personally, I wouldn’t be the hugest fan of the genre. However, it’s worth remarking that – in the right hands – it can be elevated to an artform. While the use of the word “reality” is applied loosely, it comes with its own narrative conventions – its own strengths and limitations. Carefully micro-managed, painstakingly edited and even sometimes clumsily scripted, reality television is simply another format of televisual entertainment.

It’s not that reality lacks a central crafted narrative or story arcs or character beats. These exist in reality television, albeit in a hyper-stylised meta-textual form. Just as some might advise you to read A Song of Ice and Fire to fully appreciate Game of Thrones, the meta-narrative from reality television spills out the side of the television set, unfolding in tabloids or gossip website. Characters are defined as rigidly, arcs are plotted just as carefully, it’s just that the narrative is crafted differently than it would be in an hour-long scripted drama or a half-hour sit-com.

One Chance, then, feels like the feature length adaptation of one such narrative. The story of Britain’s Got Talent winner Paul Potts (“like the Cambodian dictator?” a nurse inquires in the opening scene), One Chance often feels more like the adaptation of a much-loved novel than an attempt to tell a true story.

Sing when you're winning...

Sing when you’re winning…

Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with this. Reality television shows all have their own internal narratives, with various contestants developed to varying degrees – their lives turned into heightened melodrama for the audience at home. Careful editing ensures that these screen personas are expertly crafted. These personas are just like any other popular television character, with the exception that they are created in the editing bay rather than the writers’ room.

So One Chance wisely avoids any pretence of “reality.” It’s all beautifully shot and hyper-stylised and played as a larger-than-life inspirational romantic comedy. There’s no forced attempt at intimacy, no uncomfortably ad-libbed conversations, no tightly-cropped shaky-cam to create a false sense of legitimacy. Though the title card claims the story was inspired by a true story, it feels more like a reiteration of a popular myth, the tale of Paul Potts that has been repeated an reiterated across countless media in countless forms over the past few years.

He floored the audience...

He floored the audience…

Director David Frankel was a solid choice for the film, and he gives the movie a light touch that never feels too earnest or too sincere. He opts to play Potts’ life story as something of a comedy, with broadly drawn characters. Potts’ parents, for example, are the very picture of quaint Welsh stereotypes. His best friend is the quirky supporting character that every comedy is obliged to have. The cast all give it socks, and it lends the film a bizarre hyper-reality.

Frankel plays quite a few of the big sequences as farce. Luciano Pavarotti shows up for a scene, played by a barely passable impersonator, and he looks like he wandered in from a sketch comedy show. He shows up to tell Potts that he sucks (and – just so we know we’re supposed to hate him – will probably always suck), while resting his white hat on the armrest, smelling fine wine and eating expensive-looking snacks. “Pavarotti’s an ass,” a character muses towards the end of the film, and they’re certainly right in the context of this film.

Sweet music...

Sweet music…

This works remarkably well, but the movie’s hampered by Justin Zackham’s overly sentimental script, which seems to treat Potts as a national treasure. Corden and Frankel present Potts as an endearingly happy-go-lucky comedic lead, one who really deserves a break that life steadfastly refuses to give him. Corden is surprisingly charming in the role, with a wonderful sense of comedic timing. However, Zackman’s script seems intent on treating Potts as if he were some sort of messianic figure.

“Why can’t he think of himself for a change?” his mother bluntly asks at one point in a film, as Potts does a very decent (and very stupid) thing to help his friends out. Corden and Frankel ensure that Potts comes across as charming and sincere, but Zackham’s script treats him as something of a martyr. Reflecting on the story, Corden’s closing voice-over refers to it as “the opera of my life.” It seems just a little bit over the top, a little bit too heavy-handed.

Going, going, gondola...

Going, going, gondola…

Which is a shame, because One Chance works remarkably well as a bit of romantic inspirational rags-to-riches comedy. As Potts’ career has demonstrated, the story is pretty compelling. Part of the reason Potts’ story resonated so well in the first place was that his narrative sounded like something from a romantic inspirational rags-to-riches comedy, so this feels appropriate. It’s a movie of a reality television narrative that sounds like a movie – it’s a full circle, and it almost seems like some of Potts’ life story was written to play out on the big screen.

The problem occurs when the script is too blunt and too serious to recognise that One Chance works well as an entertaining diversion. It’s managed as carefully as the reality show that it adapts, and it’s at its best when it realises this. After all, this is the biography of a well-loved reality television star. Not a Cambodian dictator.

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