That Sinking Feeling (1984)

27 Sep

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

How can I properly describe, in detail, the charm of Bill Forsyth’s “That Sinking Feeling?” Well, to begin with, in its droll, matter-of-fact way, it’s quite funny and appealing. It has an odd premise—a bunch of bored teenagers band together to plan a heist and steal some kitchen sinks. And its humor is offbeat (and also quite broad, particularly when it features characters in drag). But “That Sinking Feeling” is presented in a way that is engaging and peculiarly true-to-life and makes it interesting to watch.

The film is set in a Scottish small town called Glasgow, where a group of unemployed, broke, bored young people live. They’re so bored that one even tries to kill himself…by drowning himself with his breakfast of Corn Flakes and milk (that is darkly hilarious). But he comes to realize, “There’s got to be something more to life than committing suicide.” And there is, as he notices a stainless-steel sink being sold for 60 pounds. He rallies his friends and some other teenagers in town to come up with a plan to rob the local sink factory.

Most of the film is showing the kids preparing the robbery. They learn complicated hand signals that aren’t as easy to learn or remember for a crucial point. They gain inside information. They get an idea to distract the building’s night guard…by having two of the boys dress in drag. You might be asking yourself why they didn’t just get their girlfriends to do it, and at times this subplot can get pretty disturbing, but watching one of the boys slip in and out of character when he should or shouldn’t is worth sitting through it.

There’s also the matter of the truck they need to store the sinks in after they’ve robbed the place. One of the kids has concocted a “sleeping potion” so that the driver of a bakery truck will pass out with enough time for the amateur thieves to borrow it for a while. And surely enough, the potion works and the driver is immobile and snoring the whole time…though he doesn’t seem to wake up.

Watching a couple of Bill Forsyth’s other films made around the time this was released (“Local Hero,” “Gregory’s Girl”), you can tell that this is a director who likes to tell stories and execute them with gentle goofiness, with some parts practicality and other parts black comedy. Early on in “That Sinking Feeling,” which he made before those two other films, you can definitely see that in the scene in which one of the kids is expressing himself to a statue of a war hero, and just when he gets angry at himself and the statue, he awakens a bum who was sleeping at the nearest bench. And just a couple scenes later, he and two other boys his age are conversing in a car, talking about contemplating suicide (one tried to drown himself with Corn Flakes and milk), and it’s soon revealed that they’re in a wrecked car in a vacant lot instead of a parked car somewhere public.

The film is full of great, droll moments like that and some funny lines of dialogue—my favorite line comes from the nurse who states that the comatose driver will wake up in the year 2068, with the plus that he’ll be rich with hospital benefits! There’s also a nice payoff to a foot chase, as one of the kids is chased by a cop who turns out to be an old friend, and they eventually engage in friendly conversation, asking how “the gang” is doing. (“I’m not in a gang!” the kid exclaims.)

The actual heist itself isn’t as interesting as the buildup to it; actually, what happens after it is more interesting and funny, particularly how not just Scotland Yard is baffled by the heist, but also the plumbers (and because the police find a woman’s shoe, they suspect a female gang is involved). And things don’t necessarily work out the way the kids plan, but…eh, screw it, they’re easygoing enough not to care about it nonetheless.

“That Sinking Feeling” is an effectively low-key film with honest portrayals of people with too much time on their hands and enough idle speculation and funny dialogue to pass off to one another. It’s an original piece of work with likable characters, a nicely-done execution, and a scheme that is absurd enough for us to laugh and even care because we come to care about these kids.

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