Affable, blokeish, pint-in-a-pub, kickaround-in-the-park Simon Pegg. Even when he was playing Scotty in Star Trek he was still likeable Simon Pegg. From talking to someone who worked with him on one of the “Cornetto Trilogy” (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End), he is actually like that in real life. What you see is what you get – smart, geeky, funny, relatable.
It comes as a shock to see him acting. In Lost Transmissions he’s a nervy record producer called Theo, life and soul of the party, a survivor of some 1990s band who now lives with his fellow Brit expats out in LA – they’ve made it.
Theo is such a force of nature that having coaxed/encouraged/bullied Hannah (Juno Temple) to sing with him at the piano at a party, somehow, in short order, he’s turned her into a songwriter so hot that music megastar Dana Lee (Alexandra Daddario, doing a version of Katy Perry) is begging Hannah for her next hit. Hannah has made it too.
But all is not well with Theo. Unlike Hannah, who admits to having been on meds for years, Theo secretly relies heavily on anti-psychotics, and periodically – as all Theo’s oldest friends tell her – he’ll come off them and go banzai.
And that’s what happens in Lost Transmissions. Theo comes off the meds, becomes psychotic/schizophrenic and resists all attempts to go back on them, because of the effect they have on his creativity. The lost transmissions of the title aren’t just the detuned radio signals which the med-free Theo fancies are speaking to him, but the synapses in his brain that fail to fire when he’s on the drugs.
Lost Transmissions looks at first like a Star Is Born movie – she’s on the upswing, he’s on the way out – and it also looks like it’s about Hannah. But in fact it’s really about Theo going awol on the drugs in LA and Hannah – because of the debt she feels to him – trying to either chivvy him back onto the drugs or into a hospital.
This switch in focus is unsettling and takes a while to get used to. One minute this shy mousey young woman is going from nowhere to world-famous songwriter, the next the film tells us it’s not actually about her at all? It’s bizarre.
It feels like there’s a whole film missing here. Maybe that’s what writer/director Katharine O’Brien wants to say – mental illness is a hijacker – and it would explain her subjectively nervous camera when Theo is at the height of his delusional rages, and Hannah is trying (and failing) to find him adequate treatment in the underfunded public health system.
Whatever the rationale, the film runs out of dramatic puff before the end, having devolved into a pattern of Theo running off and Hannah finding him another dodgy milieu – the pool at a swish LA party with a couple of young women off their minds on recreational drugs, or a refuge for down and outs eating soup.
Through it all Simon Pegg is brilliant, extraordinary, so is Juno Temple, even though the film shortchanges her and in particular her character, who has mental health issues of her own, let’s not forget. Having been introduced early on, both Hannah and her psychological problems are quietly forgotten, another lost transmission.
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© Steve Morrissey 2020