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Review: Nobody Loves You and You Don’t Deserve To Exist

The debut micro-budget feature film by Manchester-based writer-director Brett Gregory looks at a man’s life at three different times in his life, tying his early experience to a psychological breakdown in middle age.

By now pop culture has gone one of two ways since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ignore it completely or try and weave it into the thread of the story. This film does the latter, although Nobody Loves You and You Don’t Deserve To Exist was several years in the making – so if that particular C word puts you off, then this isn’t a pandemic polemic.

Defining what it is, well that’s a little more complicated. It’s social hyperrealism, an experimental drama exploring the intersection of class, masculinity, mental health, isolation, addiction and existentialism.

The narrative is framed by a female narrator delivering Jack’s story and it’s interspersed with flashbacks and talking heads from people in Jack’s life. The stylistic shifts and the docu-drama treatment doesn’t always work, and while the supporting cast are good, there are moments where I just wanted to hear from the man himself.  There is a standout performance by 13-year old Reuben Clarke as a young Jack, whose country roadside monologue to camera could be a short in itself.

The middle monologue showing Jack in 1992 felt a touch theatrical and overly long. Performed by a twitchy James Ward, it’s like an e – soaked Talking Heads episode – 90s Jack is angry and disillusioned with university life, he also sounds off on racist and sexist asides.

The older version of Jack is played by David Howell, who delivers an intense physical and emotional performance, managing to be both vulnerable and volatile as a grieving, former teacher with mental health issues.

Visually, there are elements of Ben Wheatley or a northern Shane Meadows (Gregory was raised in the Midlands, but this is very much a Manchester film). At times it feels like a modern take on John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, the story is filled with Christian iconography and bible passages.

But it’s not just the spectre of a crisis of faith that connects this film to the 17th allegory. Like Bunyan’s Christian, Jack’s path is filled with obstacles and treacherous places that knock him off course. The filmmaker himself mentions an earlier writer of morality tales, Chaucer on the film’s website.

It’s filled with potent imagery and symbolism, the strongest of which is the repeated prints of The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, which are cleverly woven into scenes throughout. There are other repeated motifs and stark visuals from around the city and surrounding countryside that touch on paganism as well comic books and urban landscapes. But the title’s impact is felt most acutely when different versions of Jack recall moments of childhood cruelty at school and home. And it bears repeating, anger doesn’t usually come from nowhere.

The film doesn’t pull its punches in its themes or politics, but there is humour running through the film too – the strange ramblings of Jack’s posh, estranged Grandma offer a moment of levity during a dark of the soul as he reckons with grief and unemployment. Nobody Loves You And You Don’t Deserve To Exist is an experimental, modern, Mancunian fable.

Find out more about the film at https://www.seriousfeather.com/nobody-loves-you

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