Being a lifelong Glaswegian, I have a natural interest in pretty much all of Bill Forsyth's early works, centring as they often do on my home-town. Re-viewing, after many years, this successor to the commercially successful "Local Hero", this was the director's last UK-based movie before his short-lived, relatively unsuccessful tenure in Hollywood. It boldly retracts from the "Hollywood-aspirant" feature that was "Local Hero" and returns him to the mean streets of Glasgow in an altogether more sombre affair, redolent as much as anything of his off-beat debut "That Sinking Feeling".
Nevertheless, I can well remember the buzz around town as his first four movies were released to immediate critical and later commercial success and even though this particular movie has not surprisingly dated somewhat, it still entertains and is interesting, if nothing else, for the likes of myself to forever pause the action and screw my eyes up to try and identify some usually since-changed background location.
The film is dated not only by the story-line itself, surrounding a then topical turf-war over ice-cream van routes (which in real life turned very nasty indeed, with as I recall, fatalities as gangland criminals muscled in on each other's territories,) but by the use of for example 80's rock band Dire Straits' music as the soundtrack, the thinly-disguised reference to the then very popular local independent station Radio Clyde 261, the now quite different Glasgow cityscape (apart from the motorway route into the city centre over the Kingston Bridge, which is pretty much unchanged), but above all Forsyth's quirky humour was by now palling with over-familiarity and forced-ness.
The story, while based on fact, perhaps overreaches itself by placing as its central protagonist, the early morning Metro DJ Alan "Dicky" Bird, who single-handedly tackles the ice-cream war and eventually comes up with a somewhat facile solution, at odds, as I said earlier, with the real-life outcome of the actual events in the mid-80's. Half examination of the emotional make-up of this jilted DJ and half documentary on the events of the ice-cream war itself, the whole is about as unconvincing as the idea of an ice-cream fritter.
Yes, there is some clever, typically amusing Forsyth-ian dialogue, particularly in Bird's "foody"-description of his and Maddy's relationship, culminating in the well-remembered line that "we went together like chocolate mousse", but the film is a little too long, is guilty of over and under-seriousness by turns and is not helped by poor acting by the assembled troupe, with the honourable exception of the ever-reliable Bill Paterson, thankfully in the central role. The rest of the cast is a motley selection of Forsyth regulars and bigger-name Scots like Rikki Fulton and Patrick Malahide, none of whom manage to convince they're real-life characters at all.
It is a real shame that Forsyth ended up writing himself into a stylistic dead-end with his "Scottish" films, in fact arguably he never bettered his very amusing debut-feature "That Sinking Feeling". Although he has more recently returned to his native land with two fairly unsuccessful features (including a pointless sequel to "Gregory's Girl"), nevertheless those first four movies, including "Comfort and Joy", even if one of the weaker entrants, were part of the growing up in Glasgow experience of the late 70's and early 80's. Even if looking back at them now shows too clearly perhaps their failings, it was different then and it's hardly Forsyth's fault that times and tastes have moved on and passed him by in the meantime.