It’s not an overstatement to say that first-time director Reggie Yates has been quietly but surely becoming a mainstay of British media. From hosting children’s television to working as a prominent radio DJ to directing controversial documentary films for the BBC, Yates has been accumulating cultural capital for nearly two decades. With his feature directorial debut, Pirates, he is finally cashing in. Set in north London, 1999, Pirates follows three teenage boys, Cappo (Elliot Edusah), Two Tonne (Jordan Peters), and Kidda (Reda Elazouar), as they careen around London in their faded yellow, “Custard Cream” car on an odyssey to get into the best New Year’s Eve party in town and win over Two Tonne’s crush, Sophie, before she returns to university. Of course, the trio also fall headfirst into comedic muck-ups along the way.
Pirates keeps things simple, with a plot reminiscent of teen slacker comedies of the Superbad mold and boasting comedic sensibilities borrowed from British TV (particularly People Just Do Nothing), but located in the hyper-specific late-’90s of North London. The gang’s last night before going their separate ways might be an old plot, but Yates breathes new life into the trope with both surprising stylistic confidence and a refreshing counter to the conventions of British teen media. His direction is just as energetic and flat-out fun as his characters, speeding Pirates through its 80-minute runtime with a gauntlet of comedic set pieces that leave little room for anything else. While this comes at the expense of any deep character work, the absence isn’t felt too strongly, as the central character isn’t any individual but rather the dynamic the trio shares. Even though each of the three principal actors only really excels individually on occasion due to a thin script, the ensemble chemistry is so organic and entertaining that the film works despite its deficiencies.
Yates also rarely indulges wholeheartedly in the potential for melancholy that his premise presents, making for a wholly buoyant film that genuinely believes in its own characters and the strength of their friendship. The director’s optimism isn’t just limited to his plot, however, but is also seen in the things he chooses not to include. From Kidulthood to Blue Story, British indie filmmaking, particularly that concerning British teenagers of color, too rarely ventures outside of stories about gang violence, the effects of poverty, and the plight of the working class. Even when there are occasional steps outside of these narrative conventions, the domain of hope is frustratingly too often reserved for white teenagers. Yates finds not just originality, but real joy in grafing a lively coming-of-age narrative onto characters who aren’t often the focus of such films, and his commitment to the story comes through at every level. Certain dialogue, jokes, and references in Pirates will go unacknowledged by some viewers, and the soundtrack is bound to be unrecognizable to many, which offers two possible outcomes: either audiences will consider it too niche or of an undesirable flavor (look no further than Pixar’s recent release Turning Red for this type of stark divisiveness), or, if they’re lucky, they will see it for what it is — a singular, joyous, and riotous time capsule of male friendship in ‘90s London.
Published as part of SXSW Film Festival 2022 — Dispatch 1.