Seemingly from the bowels of the UK comedy circuit comes The Limelight, a telling portrayal of the highs and lows of a jobbing comedian failing at his craft. Anyone believing the industry to be as light-hearted as it appears will be surprised to see the depravity that ‘comedy’ can cause to those in search of it.
This low-budget independent follows Gary Strand, portrayed by real-life stand-up Glen Maney (who also acted as joint writer and director), as he struggles for work whilst failing to maintain the relationships of those around him. Separated from his wife and struggling to keep his children interested, Gary’s isolation begins to define him.
His life involves watching his manager Al Moran, played by Eastender Ricky Glover, continually support another of his acts whilst refusing to get him work. Destitute, Gary resorts to all manner of activities to try and raise funds for himself to get back on his feet.
Obviously, this is not a particularly comedic premise, and it is this fact that is most problematic, particularly in the first half. Whilst British comedy has a long-standing tradition of making the darker elements of life humorous, The Limelight mostly fails in this regard. Gary Shand is more pitiful than hilarious, with his constant trips to the pub to seek guidance from barman/councilor Adrian seeming more an exercise in self-loathing than growth. This almost cancels out the comedic aspects of his attempts to improve his life, a fact that is intensified by the film’s poor attempts for a cheap laugh. These obvious and lazy attempts often halt any emotional investment and work against the film’s characterisation.
However, as the film continues, it appears to calm down in this regard and becomes markedly more enjoyable. The supporting cast, filled with comedy names from the British circuit, is partly responsible for this, with Patrick Monahan as Sean Bollinger, Gary’s lovable nemesis. A particularly hilarious highlight is the appearance of Craig Campbell, who provides the best laughs of the film as the angry barman Chuck. Who knew someone could be thrown from a pub for playing dominoes too aggressively?
Due to its low-budget nature, the film itself does suffer from a slightly amateurish atmosphere, with tinny sound in certain environments, as well as cheap editing techniques. However, this is to be expected and for such a shoestring budget, the amount of work that has clearly gone into the film should be commended.
Whilst The Limelight does have its moments of comedy, on the whole it is more dark than uplifting. The story itself is one that deserves a more serious approach, as the failures of an individual to pursue his dream, and the choice of whether or not to give up, is one that many will identify with.
Glen Maney paints a picture of an underdog unable to break free from his pattern of mediocrity and depression, but this heart-felt portrayal is diluted by the bad-taste attempts for a laugh dotted throughout the film, and works against the deserved sympathy for the character. However, black comedies are known for dealing in both light and shade, and The Limelight certainly dips a toe in both, providing a unique and, at times, hilarious experience.