In a dead-end job and unlucky in love, Sam (Sheridan Smith) is having a “quarter life crisis”. She meets up with an old university friend, Michelle (Kate Nash) who she’s been stalking on Facebook. Michelle brings along her friend Jess (Oona Chaplin) with whom she runs a fashion blog in Paris. Sam is overawed by the pair’s success and supposed dream lives. Desperate to compete she creates a fictional life of her own, telling them she is a successful lawyer and in a great relationship. Already struggling to keep atop of this web of lies, her tight circle of friends then turn up unexpectedly. This arrival threatens to blow her cover. The rest of the night involves Sam’s attempts to keep the two groups apart. And all pretty much confined to one central location – the ladies toilet.
Using a single location has been put to great use in a number of successful films – Twelve Angry Men, and Rope did it rather brilliantly. As did Kevin Spacey’s underrated directorial debut, Albino Alligator. This is notably a different beast from the aforementioned but the same rules apply. MJ Delaney shows directorial flair, embracing the single location, keeping the space interesting and cinematic. Never at any point does the film feel like a play or that it ought to be on the stage. NB: The original script of the play – what was essentially a series of vignettes – was given a significant overhaul.
You have to admire Powder Room’s chutzpah. Sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll are all dealt with in a frank and unglamorous manner. It doesn’t shy away from bodily functions either. All the gory details of a messy night out are portrayed with brazen honesty. It’s all very British too and that adds to both the humour and the realism. Colloquialisms abound and this is rarely a bad thing. When filmmakers consider their audience too carefully when crafting a script, the resulting work often ends up diluted and anodyne. So this is certainly not the case with Powder Room. The familiarity of it all (to those who know this world) should prove to be Powder Room’s main appeal.
It helps that it is directed by a woman, MJ Delaney and adapted by Rachel Hirons from Natasha Sparkes play When Women Wee. The dialogue and general voice of the film feels authentically female. Some obvious clichés are nicely avoided. The loose ends don’t all end up perfectly tied and there’s a very funny MDMA scene without being preachy about drug use. Sadly, a musical number at the end very almost ruins the film. The switch in tone is too incongruous. It’s unnecessary and feels like a forced attempt to up the feel-good factor. There are some big laughs in the film and not all of the crass variety. There’s some neatly-observed humour.
It has a great central performance from Sheridan Smith. She proves to be averse at both the comedic aspects required of her and the more dramatic. She is a likeable presence on screen and brings much pathos to the role amidst all the rude and crude goings-on.
Admittedly, this won’t be to everyone’s taste. It would be easy to be mean about Powder Room. Sure, the film – generally speaking – is not subtle but it’s a lot of fun and it’s great to see the girls giving as good as the boys. It’s wild, outrageous and gross-out. In this respect, it struck me how there is a huge, un-tapped, young, female audience out there. This is not to say men won’t enjoy it. (I did.) It may not set the theatrical box office alight but I predict it will have a healthy life on home viewing formats.