Dire coming-of-age drama that has about as much life as the mannequin of the title.

Released in 2008, certified UK-Not Yet Rated. Reviewed on 24 Jun 2008 by Drew Tavendale
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Jack (Thomas Grant) and Danny (Aaron Johnson) are brothers who live with their mother, Elsa (Therese Bradley) in Brighton. 18 year old Danny spends his time DJing and smoking, while Jack, who is still at school, spends his time bird-watching, at least when he isn't cleaning and indulging in his obsession with preparing trays of food or tea for people.

Danny seems to have a fairly healthy and normal relationship with his mother. Jack, on the other hand, is a weird little bastard who is far too close to his mother for anyone's good (though in a clingy, Mummy's boy kind-of way, rather than an Oedipal one). He also insists on calling her "Mummy" in a particularly irritating way, and after hearing him say "Mummy" more than a couple of times you'll wish you could stave his head in with his binoculars just so you wouldn't have to hear it again. (No, really. If you think I'm overstating it, just watch it to see how right I am. Though watching Dummy would be a bloody silly idea on your part, so best just believe me, eh?).

One night, while on a family trip to their seaside cottage, their ill mother overdoses on her pain medication. Found in the morning by Jack, he urges Danny to do something to help her. She is clearly well beyond any help but Jack manages to delay Danny calling anyone in for quite some time. When a doctor and funeral home workers finally do arrive to remove the body, the weird little mummy's boy won't let go and clings onto the corpse of his mother for as long as possible, and it is clear that he is not dealing with her death at all well.

Left to fend for themselves, a social worker (Moira Brooker) pays them a visit. Elsa's will makes it clear that in the event of her death she wants Jack to be looked after by Danny. Danny says that he is prepared to do this and the social worker agrees to Danny becoming Jack's legal guardian with unbelievable readiness.

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Danny deals with his new parental role by not dealing with it, and largely leaves Jack to his own devices as he goes out drinking, smoking and drug-taking with his new girlfriend. Already missing his mother, Jack begins to talk to her as if she is alive and answering back, and eventually the lonely little boy creates a Mummy-replacement (the Dummy of the title) using a mannequin and his mother's wig and clothes. He spends more and more time with it until he is very deeply and unhealthily attached. In the meantime Danny smokes some more and nothing much happens, in a Brighton the director has contrived to make look like a ghost town. Whether this is accidental, incompetent or perhaps deliberate to make the boys seem more lonely I don't know, but what it does mean is even more focus is put onto the two central characters and this is not a good thing, not a good thing at all.

The biggest problem with Dummy, other than simply not being very interesting, is the casting of the two brothers. Almost the entire film rests on them and they are, frankly, terrible. Aaron Johnson's performance as Danny lacks energy and his emotional scenes are strained. However, as he is called upon mostly to smoke and look sullen he never has to stretch his acting muscles much. Jack, played by Thomas Grant, is another matter. He is at the centre of the film, and for it to have any chance of working Jack has to be at least sympathetic, but this is far, far beyond him. Jack is a creepy little kid, and rather than being endearingly weird, or frighteningly weird, either of which could have worked, Grant is just instead deeply, unlikeably weird. He lacks conviction in his role, and in scenes where he is called upon to be angry, for example when Jack rages at his brother for spilling milk on his recently cleaned floor, his emotion is utterly unconvincing. I know good child actors can be hard to come by, but they are certainly to be found - for examples I point you towards the two child stars of Son of Rambow and the exciting talent that is Thomas Turgoose.

A dull film with poor performances from its leads, I conclude that this film contains 1 out of a possible 5 nodules of filmy goodness.

Matthew Thompson
Cast list:
Thomas Grant (Jack)
Aaron Johnson (Danny)
Therese Bradley (Elsa)