The More You Ignore Me, written by Jo Brand and directed by Keith English, has the potential to be very good. Based on Brand’s 2009 novel, it tells the tale of Alice (Ella Hunt), a teenager struggling to cope with the demands of her mother’s mental illness.
Things at home are tough: her dad (Mark Addy) is a gentle soul, and he does his best to keep things ticking along, but he’s not having much success. Alice’s mum, Gina (Sheridan Smith), spends most of her time immobilised by medication, sedated into a miserable paralysis – relieved only by episodes of psychosis, when she becomes volatile, railing against a world that can’t accommodate her needs. Alice is isolated: she can’t invite friends over to her house, and even though she has a lovely boyfriend, Mark (Alexander Morris), she’s persona non grata as far as his small-minded parents are concerned, the stigma of her mother’s condition being far too much for them to comprehend.
And then, one day, Ella hears The Smiths performing on TV and – like so many 80s teens – identifies with Moz’s lost-boy lyrics, convinced at last that there is somebody who really understands. She writes to Morrissey, pouring out her heart. And – to her delight – he actually replies.
It ought to work. Morrissey himself might have slipped from grace in recent years (oh Moz, I wish you didn’t think the way you do), but The Smiths songs stand the test of time, and I’d rather judge the art than the artist anyway. And Ella Hunt is mesmerising in the lead role, giving a subtle, heart-rending performance that always elicits sympathy. Mark Addy is terrific too, all good intentions and broken heart. Sally Phillips’ turn as the UK’s only under-worked GP is a nice diversion, Alexander Morris is convincingly awkward, and Clive Mantle’s Dunk is a beacon of hope.
But there’s a curious disconnect between these understated, naturalistic characters and the cartoonishly broad strokes applied to Gina and her family. The cast is strong – Sheridan Smith is undoubtedly a fine actor, and Sheila Hancock ought to be a good choice to play her mother. But it doesn’t work: it’s like they’ve wandered in from another, much worse, movie. There’s no nuance here, no sense of who they are and, in Gina’s case, of what’s been lost. Her father and brothers (Ricky Tomlinson, Tom Davis and Tony Way) are even more ridiculous, a trio of stereotypes with no credibility.
In the end, I’m left feeling frustrated by this film, not least because Ella Hunt’s performance deserves a more consistent vehicle.