Leon Geller (Frankel) is a quiet, sensitive, angst-ridden Jewish boy trying to make sense of his place in the world. Disgusted by his job at a London estate agent (due to his boss’s ideas to convert listed buildings into malls), he decides enough is enough and quits his job. He ends up being offered a job in his mother’s catering business, which seems only slightly more glamorous than his dad’s net curtain empire!
And not only is his work life a mess, but his romance with his quirky girlfriend (Gina Bellman) just isn’t working, as she wants someone far more adventurous. To escape his feelings of inadequacy he throws himself into an intense and somewhat bizarre affair with Madeleine (played by former bond girl d’Abo), who he befriends after nearly running her over when distracted in his car.
Then, through a series of convenient plot contrivances, he learns an unspeakable (well in Jewish circles) truth: he owes his existence to artificial insemination and, thanks to a mix up at the clinic, the donor sperm belonged to a certain Brian Chadwick (Brian Glover), a pig farmer from Lower Dinthorpe, on the Yorkshire moors! In deep distress Leon decides he must get to know his biological father so packs his overnight bag and heads up to Yorkshire, where much craziness and hilarity ensues…well at least that’s what the DVD cover wants you to believe.
I think I should say here that I’m not Jewish so I think some of the humour in Leon went over my head a little and, since this is a film which revels in Jewish guilt and family traditions, then I think I’m not exactly the filmmaker’s target audience. Having said that Leon isn’t without its enjoyable moments to non-Jewish viewers and it is entertaining and engaging, albeit in a very slight way.
I think the problem, for me, with this film is the fact that it tries too hard to be quirky and to engage with its core audience and one of the side effects of this is that it can be quite irritating at times to the more casual viewer. There are quite a lot of subtle and not so subtle Jewish references scattered throughout the film which, after a while, tend to grate, but I’m not too sure why. And I don’t think it’s me being anti-Semitic since I loved the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man, which also has plenty of Jewish references.
It just seemed that everyone our fairly boring lead character meets has to be a bit out there, wacky and a bit OTT. From the bizarre girlfriend who seems to have a revolving door policy for her men, through to Brian’s family who are all larger than life stereotypes, right through to everyone else he meets randomly - who all seem to know his business and try and give him advice - it all seems to be trying too hard to impress and be, well, different.
Don’t get me wrong; Leon is a well-made film. The photography is good, the editing is well done, there are some nice locations (apparently in Clapham village, Yorkshire and in London) and the acting is better than average, but I think its main problem is the script, which takes too many liberties with the audience and just expects them to climb on board the ‘crazy Leon’ train, no questions asked. It’s as if the makers just decided that they’d make a cult film right from the get-go, rather than just make a film, which then later might become a cult film. There are also some scenes that should be funny – all the ingredients are there – but they just fall short. Again this might have been due to me not ‘getting it’, but as a comedy I think Leon fails more times than it works.
However, I did enjoy most of Brian Glover’s scenes (may he rest in peace) and I did enjoy spotting lots of British acting talent in cameos and small roles before they made it big or bigger. For example, Annette Crosbie, from BBC 1’s One Foot in the Grave plays the head of the sperm clinic, Burt Kwok (the Pink Panther movies) plays an art critic and Sean Pertwee (Dog Soldiers) plays Leon’s half brother, a talented would-be chef forced to stick with the farmyard recipes his dad likes.
One of Leon the Pig Farmer’s biggest problems is the character of Leon himself – he’s too wishy-washy and ineffectual to be particularly sympathetic so you find yourself starting to want to slap some sense into him from quite early on in the film! Plus the whole pig-sheep hybrid subplot is just stupid (let’s face it, it’s impossible) and doesn’t really work – although I liked the idea of a kosher pig!
Leon’s worth a watch, but probably only for curiosity value and for the awesome Brian Glover who steals whatever scene he’s in. Oh, and it’s nice to see Bellman and d’Abo not wearing much too!
Reviewer: Justin Richards
Network Releasing have just released Leon the Pig Farmer on dual format Blu-Ray & DVD, so keep a look out for it on the shelves of your local HMV, supermarket or online.
The extras on the disc include a trailer, a graduation film from one of the director’s/writer’s time at art college and an audio commentary. I have to admit I didn’t listen to the audio commentary, but I did watch the short and have to say I enjoyed it more than I did the feature. The Unkindest Cut of All appears to be a bit of a dry run for Leon and was nominated for best short at the BAFTAs way back in 1988 when it was made. It’s quite perceptive about human nature and is essentially a film about bringing two very different communities together, in this case The Salvation Army and the Jews. A nice, well realised, short; worth seeing.