It Takes Three
Five years after the japery of A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy and the playfulness of Summer Lovers came the mid-July U.S. opening of a ribald and raunchy British import from a director (Alan Clarke) and a screenwriter (Andrea Dunbar) who managed to commingle sexual partnering with caustic social comment about life in economically depressed Mother England under the Conservative Party government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Its title was the cheeky Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1987), its characters were shaggy and the overall effect was a testy blend of trenchant, loud-mouthed farce and breath-catching bleakness. Rita (Siobhan Finneran) and Sue (Michelle Holmes) are unambitious, fun-loving BFFs who live with their less-than-loving families in a ramshackle council estate in Bradford. After babysitting one evening for middle-class couple Bob (George Costigan) and Michelle (Lesley Sharp) at their nattier suburban home, the girls are driven home by Bob, who proposes a detour that results in a bumpy ride indeed: the start of a wickedly naughty threesome that the happy-go-lucky teenagers – to Bob’s amazement and amusement – are only too willing to pursue, if only to relieve the boredom of their nowhere lives. In the Chicago Tribune, critic Dave Kehr summed up the effect of this moment: “The resulting image – Bob’s car bouncing in the light of the full moon, while one of the women waits her turn outside – is a devastating parody of the gothic romance: Moody Heathcliff has been replaced by randy Bob.” It’s an initially cozy arrangement that leads to complications galore and challenges viewers to weigh the film’s nimble juggling act of uproarious and often profane humor with clear-eyed portrayals of troubled families and obliviously selfish behaviors. “One of the more memorable things about Rita, Sue and Bob Too is that it makes its sociological points quietly, with humor, or not at all,” Sheila Benson noted in her Los Angeles Times appraisal. “Dunbar and director Alan Clarke capture these in fast, funny snapshots: an old ‘gummer’ on a neighboring balcony, so carried away watching a domestic fracas that he does deep knee bends in empathy. Rita, snatched by her biker-brothers from the furious hands of Bob's wife, is carried off to the safety of the family flat – where her father begins to swat her. The movie's tone is light, absurd; its sharper comments lie a little below the waterline.” Sharper, indeed, but omnipresent, as Kehr continued in his evaluation: “It sounds appalling, and much of it is: Clarke has discovered a British Tobacco Road, populated by leering grotesques (Sue’s alcoholic father, Bob’s nosy next-door neighbor) and governed by the basest instincts – survival, reproduction, watching MTV (or its British equivalent). But the nicest surprise…is that the sexuality of the characters does not mirror the cheapness and sordidness of the surroundings but becomes a way of escaping them – a source of genuine pleasure and, eventually, personal freedom.” Clarke and Dunbar provide a wealth of details to assist in weighing the cost of that freedom, both funny and sad. With Twilight Time resident historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman also weighing in with their thoughts on a sharp Audio Commentary, the TT hi-def Blu-ray invites you to jump into the car with Rita, Sue and Bob Too, available here: http://www1.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/26866/RITA-SUE-AND-BOB-TOO-1987/.