Bad Songs Say So Little
British Musical About Love In London’s Camden Town Has Great Leads, But Unmemorable Music
‘Been So Long’ represents a bit of an experiment for Netflix. Will people stream movie musicals that aren’t remakes of old favorites? The movie, directed by Tinge Krishnan, is based on a play of the same name; the music is by Christopher Nicholas Bangs and Arthur Darvill. Both the movie and the soundtrack have a lot going for them, including the leads, Michaela Coel and Arinzé Kene. It might be a fun watch on a Saturday night, but there are a few problems that keep it from being the next coming of the modern urban musical.
Simone (Coel, best known for her series Chewing Gum and appearances in Black Mirror) is a single mother who lives in the artsy and diverse Camden section of London. She’s so busy with her job and taking care of her 9-year-old daughter Mandy (Mya Lewis) that she hasn’t gone out for a night on the town in ages. Her childhood friend Yvonne (Ronke Adekoluejo) still single and carefree, encourages her to come out to one of their old haunts, the Arizona Bar.
The bar is run by another old friend, Barney (Luke Norris), but is hurting for business. However, in that bar, Simone meets Raymond (Kene), who has just gotten out of prison for breaking into a car (it’s a long story) and is wearing an ankle bracelet. There’s an immediate attraction, but Simone is skeptical; in fact, she susses out immediately that Raymond has recently gotten out of jail. But they run into each other later that night on a bus. She gives him her number, against her better judgement.
BEEN SO LONG ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Tinge Krishnan
Written by: Che Walker
Starring: Michaela Coel, Mya Lewis, Arinzé Kene
Running time: 100 min.
There’s a lot of other stuff going on in Simone’s life, though, and after a fine first date with Raymond that leads to them sleeping together, the two go their separate ways for a bit. She gets pissed at him for coming to Mandy’s school. Then she has to deal with Mandy’s curiosity about her father, Krestel (Joe Dempsie), who lives in the neighborhood but whom Simone has forbid from seeing Mandy due to his drug issues. But he meets her at school, cleaned up and ready to get to know her, and Yvonne facilitates the meeting.
It’s those scenes where Mandy meets the father we never knew where the movie shines. Lewis plays Mya with so much confidence in herself that her wheelchair doesn’t hold her back. She’s the only one talking sense to her mother, her father and Raymond throughout the picture.
Coel and Kene have amazing chemistry. When the two of them are on screen, talking or dancing or making love, there’s a palpable sense that the two of them are better together than separate.
But, unfortunately, we don’t see them together nearly enough. Between meeting and first date there’s a lot of texts. And then after that great first date, the two of them are essentially separate until nearly the end of the movie, when a cliched roadblock (in the “she meant nothing to me!” category) keeps them apart even longer.
Some of the gap is made up by Simone’s relationship to Yvonne and the scenes where the determined Mandy tries to get to know her father. But there’s a couple of head-scratching plots that go nowhere and mainly serve to write songs around. For instance, we learn that Barney has had a thing for Simone for years, but knows he can’t act on it.
We also find out that a guy named Gil (George McKay) has been stalking Raymond under the false impression that he stole the love of Gil’s life, when he was really just crushing on a friend of Raymond’s that met him when both were in prison. His presence only makes sense when he helps Yvonne work out her emotions about possibly being pregnant.
All of this confusing stuff would be OK if the musical numbers were more memorable, but despite a few interesting routines (like Yvonne singing about “needing a fella”), there’s not much to latch onto. The speaking sections are much more memorable than the music, and that’s not a good sign for a musical.
Been So Long would have worked great without the music. Since the original source material was a play, it feels like there was a lost opportunity to make a compelling story about two people struggling fall in love despite the obstacles. But with the music, it just becomes a fun diversion that you won’t remember much about–aside from Coel’s smile–after you turn your streaming box off.