Giles Borg’s 1234 tells the story of a motley crew of wannabe musicians as they jam, work, gig, fight, and almost reach fame together. It really is the same old song and the unfortunate truth of this extremely endearing film is that just like the band it is named after, it has potential and it is hard to understand why, when it looks like it might almost succeed, it drops away.
Following a cliché course, geeky Stevie and goofy Neil dream of leaving their telesales nine-to-fives for the world of live music. Educated musicians (note I did NOT say talented), they attach themselves to gruff guitarist Billy Dixon and his quirky bass-playing pal Emily and suddenly 1234 the band is formed. With regular practice in a community hall, a couple of dismal gigs and a heck of a lot demo CDs and postage stamps later, we watch the band teeter around the edges of recognition whilst struggling with sensitivities, opinions, aspirations, and the ‘real’ world. Despite the excellent characterization and witty script, I’m sorry to say that the film echoes the sentiments of its titular band and merely dances around the potential lying at its core.
Good acting can only travel a certain distance with limited material and while I am a huge fan of ‘less is more’ when it comes to dialogue, it is crucial then for dialogue to be concise and simultaneously loaded. Unfortunately, we get a limited view into what each of these band members has to bring to the table and therefore a limited understanding of their dynamics and potential as a group. To that effect, it is interesting to note that despite naming the film for the band, there is no account of how this appellation came to be so. Surely a superb opportunity for additional comedy, but also a juncture to allow each character a shot at christening the band based on their own idea of who they are individually and as a group. Possibly another formulaic trope to add to a ‘band’ film, but as the rest of the film does not shy away from tackling such clichés it is extremely surprising that such a prospect was not seized for the sake of fleshing out a very thin film.
On this note, one must rebuke the cringe-worthy instances of predictability in an otherwise quirky film. At the close of a day together Stevie follows Emily down a laneway asking “Where are we going?” to which Emily unsurprisingly replies, “Trust me. I want to show you something”. So just as it happens in Aladdin, Robin Hood or any other of the other hundreds of scenes established with such a discourse, one would-be lover leads another to a place of personal significance and beauty for the sake of a romantic moment. Equally force-fed is the scene in which Emily describes her conceptual ‘hair art’ to her boyfriend and his friends as something that looks substantial but in truth is made up something very insubstantial; i.e. in case you hadn’t picked up on it already, her boyfriend is a loud-mouthed, shallow moron. Considering the film depends on its individuality and resident sense of humour it is disappointing that these scenes are played out this way. When a film like 1234 has the capacity to create its own idiosyncratic moments and catch-phrases with the further prospect of attaining generational cult status, an audience member will find themselves regularly let down by this unfulfilled potential.
On a positive note, the film is comic and unique in that we never see the band attain success (or even a successful gig), we’re not sure what happens with the potential romance, and don’t really know whether Stevie or indeed 1234 will follow up on the one promising letter they have received back from a label. This is unique, what we don’t see, because we’ve heard it all before in rockumentaries, comedies, musical movies, documentaries, and so many other tales; we know the words. It is in keeping the band at an ‘everyman’ level that 1234 stands out from other films of the genre and perhaps with some work it could become the sort of cult classic it obviously aspires to be.Powered by Sidelines