There is something inherently cinematic about music festivals - masses of people assembled together for a single event, where social norms are thrown out and the crowd is driven in a liberated celebration of music, pagan and ritualistic. In the past, when cameras have turned to music festivals, they’ve found masterpieces like ‘Woodstock’ (1970) or ‘Gimme Shelter’ (1970). Such films can’t have been far from the mind of British director David Mackenzie when conceiving his latest film, ‘You Instead’, using the Scottish festival T in the Park as its backdrop. But where does this film sit with these past giants?
‘You Instead’ follows Adam (Luke Treadaway) and Morello (Natalia Tena), two rock stars from opposing bands who find themselves handcuffed together by a mad priest, just before they're both scheduled to perform. Forced together with no key and limited help from their friends, they have to navigate through the festival, and find a way to get along without killing each other or missing their gigs.
Mackenzie and his team took an unconventional approach to constructing the film, shooting over the course of five days during the actual festival and responding to their surroundings. This comes across clearly in the film - the dialogue heavily improvised, and the cinematography crazily hand-held. You can see the appeal of such a project - a music festival like T in the Park achieves a scale that no film could ever hope to achieve without extensive CG. You have thousands upon thousands of extras, astounding environments, sounds and sights and textures that would take insane amounts of planning and artistry to achieve.
YOU INSTEAD - TRAILER
Where the film falls down, though, is in that conceit, of taking a bunch of actors and a camera to a music festival and improvising a movie out of it. The problem is, that improvised movie just isn’t very good. The narrative is a one-trick pony, and the moment where Adam and Morello are manacled together happens in the first five minutes of the film. We know nothing about them and have very little context for them, so this event holds little significance other than being vaguely funny. From then, the film continues to flog this event, but it just isn’t interesting enough to hold focus, and also isn’t helped by documentary-style footage of the festival being sliced between story beats. It’s a flimsy narrative that doesn’t have anywhere near enough meat on it to keep it standing.
Another problem is the characters - they are nothing but the usual festival and music stereotypes. Adam and Morello, by virtue of being the centre of the film, have a bit more development than others, and are helped immensely by the natural charm of the actors, especially Natalia Tena, whose spunk and humour gives the film some life. All the secondary characters, however, are woeful, and often feel like nothing more than self-conscious obstacles to throw in the way. Alastair Mackenzie and Ruta Gedmintas, as the pair's partners, seem only to be there to get in the way of Adam and Morello’s building romance, and that self-consciousness is painfully obvious. In the end, what you have is an hour and a half of film following actors wandering around a music festival who are not entirely sure what they should be doing.
The narrative is a one-trick pony.
The unfortunate result of this poor storytelling is that the footage of the festival itself is infinitely more fascinating than the narrative, and I found myself wishing that Mackenzie had simply made a documentary built around either the event itself and the experience of it, like in ‘Woodstock’ or ‘Glastonbury’ (2006), or followed the experiences of one of the bands, like in ‘Gimme Shelter’. He is given the rare opportunity to document an epic social event, in itself a fascinating snapshot of a generation, and wastes it by being both too ambitious and not ambitious enough. You get the feeling this whole film was far too rushed by attempting to take advantage of a situation without careful consideration of what to do with that opportunity.
What you are left with in the end is an utterly inconsequential and forgettable film, devoid of any real purpose other than to say "music festivals are cool". Even the classic festival films had more to say than that. We aren’t really left caring about Adam and Morello and their fairytale romance. Theirs just gets in the way of the romance happening behind them, thousands of people in the act of creating and receiving music. ‘You Instead’ makes you wish you were watching that film instead of this one.