Small Faces

on August 14, 1996 by Kim Williamson
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   Even more specialized fare from the maker of the Irish-themed "The Playboys," this Scottish-burr drama tells the story of three MacLean brothers growing up in Glasgow circa 1968. Middle sibling Alan (Joe McFadden) has dreams of leaving his fatherless family's low-income origins behind to pursue the high art of painting; firstborn Bobby (Steven Duffy) is a mentally challenged lout whose propensity for bursts of rage fit him well with the tough gang with which he scours the town, looking to take on the hated enemy, the Tong gang, at any moment; and the youngest, Lex (Iain Robertson), must decide whether to follow his one brother's loftier calling, his other brother's baser trade, or find his own path.
   "Small Faces" benefits from a very personal feel, doubtless due to co-scripters Gillies Mackinnon (who also directs) and brother Billy Mackinnon (who also produces) having grown up in the Glasgow they portray. But their closeness to the material is a little too close; unlike "The Playboys," which coherently focused on the travails of one besmudged local, the narrative of "Small Faces" veers--or wobbles--as it attempts to spend equal time detailing the woes and wishes of Alan and also of Lex. That schizoid sense is matched by the filmmakers' odd selection of soundtrack tunes; "Sunny" and "In the Year 2525" were 45-rpm hits of the era, but the songs have no other perceptible connection to the tale at hand. The tunes' Americanism is also jarring, especially given that the characters' near-impenetrable brogue means stateside moviegoers must strain to keep up with the dialogue.
   Those aren't inconsiderable minuses, but "Small Faces" boasts pluses that more than offset them. Aside from the occasionally overchallenged Robertson, the acting is first-rate, with nice supporting turns by Laura Fraser as Alan's self-possessed girlfriend and Claire Higgins ("Bad Behavior") as the boy's distressed but loving mother. The Mackinnons also have an ear for speech that is intelligent yet also realistic--and yet often very funny. When, "American Graffiti"-style, "Small Faces" closes with biographical updates on what happened to the characters in later years, the film's success can be judged on how considerable is the interest that audiences have in those revelations.    Starring Iain Robertson, Joe McFadden, Steven Duffy and Laura Fraser. Directed by Gillies Mackinnon. Written by Gillies Mackinnon and Billy Mackinnon. Produced by Billy Mackinnon and Steve Clark-Hall. An October Films release. Drama. Rated R for violence and strong language. Running time: 109 min.
Tags: Iain Robertson, Joe McFadden, Steven Duffy, Laura Fraser, Gillies Mackinnon. Written by Gillies Mackinnon and Billy Mackinnon. Produced by Billy Mackinnon and Steve Clark-Hall. An October Films release. Drama
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