Based on the autobiography of a British TV executive, the occasionally cute but ultimately less than involving "My Life So Far" is as disjointed and fractured as one would imagine a person's recollection of their life as a ten-year-old would be. A coming of age/loss of innocence period piece, the film has a few interesting scenes, a random laugh or two, and is refreshing in that the child protagonist isn't of the Hollywood manufactured "Home Alone" smarty-pants variety. For the most part, however, it's otherwise instantly forgettable. As such, expect a brief and extremely limited tour of theaters before making a quick trip to the video shelves for this one.
All of which is too bad considering the film's cast and crew, and in particular, the director. Known for being rather selective about his film projects, Hugh Hudson has only made a handful of movies in the past two decades, most notably "Chariots of Fire" and "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes." However, one can see why he may have been enamored with this film since it takes place in a similarly more innocent and exploratory time as did those other pictures.
Yet where those films are compelling, this one never feels completely congruous enough to hold one's attention. Events and characters come and go with little rhyme or reason, including the narrator's repeated claims of not fearing heights that never later pays off as one expects. There's also a biplane pilot who stops by twice without any apparent reason or related payoff, and the mysterious "hairy man" who makes a few brief appearances before later -- an inexplicably -- being pulled drowned from the local lake.
Taking into account the rumors that the film has been in and out of the editing booth for the past several years as the filmmakers repeatedly tried to make it "better" and/or ready for release, one imagines that explanations and/or more footage regarding those and other incongruous scenes were present at one time.
Of course, the film must be reviewed as it stands as a finished product. As such, the result is that it appears Hudson and playwright-turned screenwriter Simon Donald (who's adapted the book, "Son of Adam" by Sir Denis Forman) never try to offer any explanations for many of those scenes. Instead, they appear more intent on randomly allowing them to flow forth like fractured recollections of what the narrator's life was like as a preteen.
While there's some inherent charm and quaintness to that approach, the filmmakers don't stop there. Instead, they then take it upon themselves -- particularly early in the film -- to force feed the audience so many capricious moments -- that are supposed to show the family's mild eccentricity -- that one imagines they had the "How to be Quirky" manual close by throughout the shoot.
While they've somewhat succeeded at creating such an atmosphere and some fun standalone scenes, the effects feel nothing short of manipulative and extremely forced. Whenever a group of animals -- in this case, dogs -- is employed to stare in unison at the follies of their human "masters," one immediately senses the filmmaker's hand and realizes that the picture is either in trouble, or has lifted such moments from films of a bygone era, such as "The Little Rascals."
That said, some may enjoy such quaint qualities and the film's old-fashioned feel. Fortunately for the rest of us, that forced approach as well as many of the random and seemingly detached scenes are thankfully less present later in the film as the plot finally settles down into more of a traditional, linear story.
While the whole matter regarding the family politics and the father's straying of the heart serve as the moderately interesting backbone for the film, the moments concerning the boy's quizzical and stumbling transition from boy to young man are the most entertaining.
Today's kids, of course, grow up so fast and with so much "information" immediately available to them -- whether from friends, the Internet, TV, etc... -- that they often know far more than we did when growing up at the same age. That's why Fraser's "ancient" and occasionally misguided and misinformed efforts to figure out the adult world are both funny and disarmingly charming.
Playing that young boy, newcomer Robbie Norman delivers a completely likeable and winning performance. Never annoyingly precocious or irritating like many child characters are presented nowadays, Norman perfectly plays how many probably imagine an inquisitive, but properly mannered child of yesteryear would behave. His performance is not only believable, but quite enjoyable and is clearly one of the film's highlights.
As far as the adult performances, they're generally okay. As the quirky father facing his own midlife crisis, Colin Firth ("Shakespeare in Love," "The English Patient") delivers a mostly entertaining take and at least gets some dramatic arc with which to work. Much like the character she embodies, Irene Jacob ("The Double Life of Vernonique," "Othello") brings a somewhat mischievous -- and certainly welcomed -- playfulness to the proceedings, and besides Norman gets to play one of the film's more enjoyable characters.
Others, however, such as Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio ("Limbo," "The Abyss") playing the faithful wife and Malcolm McDowell ("Star Trek Generations," "A Clockwork Orange") as the dastardly "villain," have rather straightforward character trajectories and don't get much of a chance to build upon them, although both deliver competent takes on their characters.
If the film had taken another -- or actually perhaps one less -- trip to the editing booth, it may have been much better. While it has a somewhat winning and overall quaint charm going for it -- that may or may not annoy certain viewers based on its forced nature, the fact that it's often so fractured and incongruously assembled ultimately prevents the audience from ever fully getting wrapped up in its offerings. Although some viewers will like it simply for being and/or having that old-fashioned feel, we simply wish it worked better than it does. As such, we give "My Life So Far" a 4.5 out of 10.