Tonight, BBC1 decided to screen Things to do before you’re 30, a film made in 2004 about a lackluster group of ordinary blokes, living ordinary lives, brought together by football. It was not a Hollywood blockbuster. It did not reap millions in opening-weekend ticket sales. It does not have amazing CGI – or any at all, come to that. To me, however, it will always be one of those films that stands out from others. It is not because it’s funny. It is not because it contains football. And it is definitely not because of Billie Piper.
(In fact, very briefly I might add that replacing Billie Piper with a generic failed actress from a Never mind the Buzzcocks line-up, placing a paper bag over her head and painting a smiley face on it might do more to add depth to the character. /rant.)
The film is quite so wonderful to me simply because of what it stands for. Friendship, loyalty, sentiment and things that matter. The group of lads that we follow throughout the film aren’t necessarily special. They aren’t superheroes, they aren’t amazingly handsome (note the lack of toned bodies emerging from sparkling water on a tropical island), they aren’t spies, they aren’t beacons of morality – they are normal blokes. I find that I empathise more with some of the blokes here than I do with faux representations of men in anything that Hollywood has produced in the last ten years.
Recently, the people who zip their way into and out-of my life find far too much interest in shallow past-times. There is a great preoccupation with drinking the right kind of wine, or owning the right kind of shoes. We must socialise in the right kind of places and drink coffee with the right kind of people. This is not where I come from. My background is weaved together by hard-knocks and hard times. My own little band of brothers never went quite so far as to group together and sing the song from Annie, but we all know that we’ve known each other long enough that if any of us had the nerve to suggest such a thing, they would immediately be punched in the groin. Hard.
That is how we survive. We mock each other. We remind each other of all the embarrassing things we have ever done, and we make damn sure that they never forget it. We don’t do it to be horrible. We do it to survive. The lads in Things to do before you’re 30 are bound together by football – and the lasting message as we near the end of the film is given during a funeral. Death contrasted with hope. The Don, as he was known, could get angry at the team of foolhardy footballers. Never because they lost, but when they didn’t play as a team. There’s your message. There’s your reason to love the output of British cinema in 2004. The lads stick together because life is big, complicated and can knock the wind out of you at any given moment. Unless your best mate is standing next to you to say ‘Remember that time you blew your engine up? You tit’, it might just knock the life out of you as well.
So as far as this film is concerned, it is brilliant. It is funny, but in a grim and dark way that really does shine some light in the dark. It’s not humour for humour’s sake. I know that some people may never get the chance to empathise with films like these. The lads have grown up on the streets of Greenwich. A privileged upbringing in a mansion-esque palace with several cars splayed across the sizeable driveway won’t necessarily lead you to understand the film’s dark undertones. There’s some sort of ‘ignorance-is-bliss’ wonder about this. To an extent, I am truly envious. On the other hand, however, I will be forever grateful that I can watch a film like this and smile. Not with pure enjoyment, but with a certain sadness that may never leave, but will always remind me of what’s important in life.