To the teen whose narration opens 100 Streets, living is just a lot of waiting around until something happens that defines one’s life. Recording his thoughts into his phone, that teen, Kingsley (Franz Drameh), says, “Life—that’s just the shit that happens while you were wishing you were someone or somewhere else.” This cynical idea becomes the movie’s guiding through line, one winding through three London-based stories that were presumably intended to demonstrate the connections between people and the effects our choices have on one another. More accurately, TV director Jim O’Hanlon’s feature debut is an underdeveloped, flat drama built on the radical idea that choices sometimes have unexpected results.
In aid of this idea, the film focuses on three sets of couples: a husband and wife on the outs because of infidelity; a cabbie and wife trying to adopt; and Kingsley, an aspiring performer, and Terence (Ken Stott), an actor, who meet one another while the former does community service for drug possession. Each of these pairings has their lives complicated by their decisions. In the first and most prominent of these, Idris Elba is Max, a former rugby coach and celebrity who, when he’s not doing halftime shows on coke, stumbles in and out of the club scene looking to hook up with his attractive groupies. His estranged wife, Emily (Gemma Arterton), is a former actress taking care of their young kids and looking to get back into her work to “stay off the happy pills” following Max’s affair (one that has taken place before the events of this film).
George, the cabbie, and his relationship with his wife Kathy (Kierston Wareing) are strained by the inopportune revelation of youthful indiscretion. Their problems deepen when he makes the fateful decision to pick up one more fare. In addition to a drug bust, Kingsley gets thrown out of his home after his mom finds a gun hidden in his dresser, and Terence encounters the thugs who operate in the same criminal circles as Kingsley. In the movie’s most contrived scenario, Max discovers, in the same scene, a photo album from his wife’s former lover and the results of a pregnancy test that send him into a rage, leading to a melodramatic, unearned showdown with the police as they try to talk him down from his hysteria. Elba, also credited as a producer, doesn’t help matters with a feeble portrayal that makes Max the least sympathetic of all the characters. He’s unconvincing whether he’s pretending to be sorry he cheated on Emily or turning her home upside down and waving a gun out of anger.
All this reads like soap opera material, and that’s how it plays out, albeit without the hammy energy, lingering close-ups, and cheese that would make it interesting. Instead, Leon Butler’s screenplay layers on developments that only exacerbate the already-existing tension between people. Max and his wife are at odds when the film begins and they remain so. George and Kathy have the kind of relationship where he’s always working to keep her happy—quite a task because until the movie’s very end, when he sings karaoke to her, she appears perpetually miserable. Issues related to his own sense of low self-esteem don’t come to the fore until the couple is making nice. [Spoiler ahead.] About the closest their segment comes to being enjoyable is when, after a funeral, the new widow seriously asks George if his wife looked happy just before he hit her. You know, for closure.
100 Streets doesn’t fully develop one story; three threaten to float off the screen from weightlessness. Its attempts to show connections between people are shallow for being incidental: Kingsley stealing a motor scooter and zipping past Max, George recognizing Terence during his walk and offering an admiring shout-out as he drives by. On the level of character development, we aren’t given enough time to know any of them well enough to care about their lives and what happens to them. That’s the problem with every lead character—they’re not people so much as examples of this movie’s banal premise that life isn’t all that interesting or of value until the big events come along. It’s not even an honest philosophy—it’s merely an excuse to make a film dominated by those headline-grabbing moments. A more interesting and valuable treatment would link Max, Emily, George, Kingsley, et al. not merely by proximity but by their awareness of one another’s lives, how they react to problems that appear to be outside their personal orbits, and what that says about their own approaches to their lives. Alas, that would require a self-reflection 100 Streets itself doesn’t engage.
Director: Jim O’Hanlon
Writer: Leon Butler
Starring: Idris Elba, Gemma Arterton, Franz Drameh, Charlie Creed-Miles, Ken Stott, Kierston Wareing
Release Date: Jan. 13, 2017