In my lifetime, no New Year’s Eve has felt more enormous, more life-changing, more open to possibilities than NYE 1999. Take out the fact that it was a tumultuous time for me personally, the whole world was unsure if all we knew was going to end thanks to computer code being unable to recognize the year 2000. If you didn’t live through it, you’d understandably be confused, even be forgiven for laughing at the thought that humanity might get sent back to the Stone Age by a programming mistake. Yet, at the time, some folks were gathering stores of goods, prepping for the worst, while others did their best to upgrade their systems, planning for the best. In my case, I was 19 and in dire need of a good time. Having its international premiere at SXSW 2022 is writer/director Reggie Yates and his “one crazy day” comedy Pirates, which tracks the exploits of three friends trying to navigate their way to the best night of their lives, change being the only specter they can’t seem to outrun. Lead by three charming performances, Pirates is a feel-good comedy whose laughs are as big as its heart.
It’s New Year’s Eve 1999 and friends Cappo (Elliot Edusah), Two Tonne (Jordan Peters), and Kidda (Reda Elazouar) are planning for the usual end-of-the-year reunion: video games and porn. The plan shifts when Two Tonne bumps into Sophie (Kassius Nelson) and tells her that the three are going out to celebrate and she should join them, prompting Two Tonne to drop their arranged activities and go on the hunt for tickets to the most incredible party in town. Surprisingly, getting the tickets is the easy part, getting there, getting the girl, and having the time of their lives is a tad harder.
If you didn’t know going into Pirates that this is Yates’s feature-length directorial debut like I did, you’d have no clue due to his precision in narrative and direction. The film is just about 80-minutes, meaning that there’s no spare moment to dwell unnecessarily. Instead, once the film starts and the three main leads are introduced, the rest of the film is about getting them where they need to be as narratively efficiently as possible. In order to short-hand some things, Yates utilizes flashbacks or voice-overs as events happen so that momentum can be either built or maintained. This makes sure the few sequences that employ this method never overstay their welcome, seeing them cleverly appearing and disappearing without a single misstep. Sure, the narrative itself isn’t particularly inventive at its core (it’s a film we’ve seen before about friends at a crossroads), but the road that’s traveled is where Yates’s unique voice shines. This is a film explicitly for U.K. youth of any era, making use of characters, music, and locations that will possess meaning directly for them; yet, the larger themes are, indeed, universal. Cappo is at university, while Two Tonne and Kidda stayed home working jobs and trying to make music. Yates’s script uses this as the obvious dramatic element in the comedy, the possible separation of class as the reason for a possible falling out. Add in the fact that Cappo is supposed to be managing Two Tonne and Kidda and Kidda doesn’t seem to be *as* in it as Two Tonne and you’ve got yourself a volatile cocktail. Smartly, though, the narrative doesn’t play out in the manner expected, allowing for the obvious resolution in an authentic unobvious way.
It, of course, helps that the central cast is spectacular: the three are charming and hilarious, always making more of whatever individual backstory each character possesses. We expect Cappo is a bit timid around his mates since he’s the one with a secret (the audience knows, the other two don’t) and the character is given the kind of unreliable ride someone has when they can’t afford to fix or replace it, yet Edusah plays him with clear ambition to rise above where he started and the smarts to read a situation. Two Tonne is the dude who puts on airs, never really thinking his b.s. through until he must, and Peters gives him a depth that cuts through the bravado. Kidda’s character mostly brings the laughs, either through dialogue or situational comedy, yet Elazouar somehow gives the positively oblivious Kidda an infectious glee that overrides anyone’s ability to get frustrated with the character. As actor-led as these characters are, Yates, with cinematographer Rachel Clark (Black Panther; first assistant, second unit), knows how to frame the energy of each to not only capture the best of each, but to ensure that we always feel like we’re a part of their trio.
If there’s any complaint to be had, it lies with continuity and the audio mix. Granted, I’m less familiar with the nomenclature of U.K. youth at the turn of the century, but phrases like “facts” and “vibin’” are contemporary terms, making their use in an otherwise strict period comedy seem out of place. Then there’s the accidental fact that the inside of Cappo’s car can be visibly seen with fogged up windows in one shot and totally clear in the next. With so much of the film taking place in the car, especially in the evening portion of the narrative, it’s hard to miss such a continuity issue. The audio mix, well, that one’s difficult to say if it’s a problem with the film or the means by which I viewed the film. Frequently, the score is about as loud as the dialogue, making it sometimes difficult to understand the specifics of what the characters are saying. Covering SXSW remotely means watching the film via the SXSW TV app, something I did last year with zero issues, but, this year, there’ve been a few hiccups and glitches. Without seeing the film in a theater, it’s difficult to discern if the audio mix is a result of making it accessible for remote viewing or if that’s just the audio mix as designed. Given how the industry has moved toward digital files to project in theaters, I’m leaning toward it being the source and not the tech, but it’s worth mentioning to bring awareness to the problem. What I could understand was fantastic, I just wish I could’ve understood it all.
Quibbles aside, Yates’s Pirates is a jam and a half, filled with youthful energy, positivity, and the kind of hopefulness for the future that some of us may have forgotten how to maintain 21 NYE parties later. For me, Pirates is the kind of film I’d want to watch with my friends either in a physical group or in some shared digital space, then tell stories about how we were young and stupid, secure in the knowledge that we weren’t so much without common sense or intelligence, but that the worries of then are so minimal compared to now. In that regard, what Yates offers in Pirates is an absolute gift.
Screening during the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.
SXSW Screening Information:
*Friday, March 11th, Screening @ 5:30p CT, Alamo Lamar A
*Weekday, March 12th, On-line Screening @ 9a CT
*Monday, March 14th, Screening @ 7:30p CT, Alamo Lamar C
*Wednesday, March 16th, Screening @ 6:45p CT, Violent Crown Cinema 2
*Wednesday, March 16th, Screening @ 7:15p CT, Violent Crown Cinema 4
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.