I have very low expectations of movies I’ve never heard of. This may be why I’m usually very surprised by the superior quality of a lot of low-budget films (or independent films) that have been ignored by the general populace by their lack of publicity. Look at it this way: when you have been expecting something and it finally comes, and is proven bad, you feel a sense of loss; but when you don’t expect something and it comes, and is bad, as the saying goes, “It’s no skin off my nose.” This is the case with Mel Smith’s High Heels and Low Lifes, a British independent film that I’ve heard very little off, but was pleasantly surprised by.
High Heels and Low Lifes stars British actress Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting) as Shannon, a nurse at a community hospital, and Mary McCormack (K-Pax) as Frances, Shannon’s American best friend and a struggling actress. The two friends get into trouble when they overhear robbers talking over a cellphone in the middle of a heist. The girls go to the police, but are ignored. After the robbery proves to be a success, the girls decide to blackmail the robbers, mostly at the urging of Frances, who convinces Shannon that they’ll be doing a good thing by stealing from the thieves and using the money to buy much-needed supplies for Shannon’s hospital. The girls begin their blackmail, and that’s where things start to go wrong.
It’s probably obvious by the title that High Heels and Low Lifes is not a serious heist film. It’s a female-buddy picture intercut with the low life criminal element of the title. The film was shot on location in England, with Minnie Driver’s Shannon playing the calm leading lady to Mary McCormack’s frantic and troublemaker Frances. Although it’s Frances who gets them into trouble, it’s the calm and deliberate Shannon who realizes the depth of their trouble and gets them out of it.
Along the way, we meet assorted characters, including Kevin McNally as Mason, the button-up and high-strung leader of the robbers, and Danny Dyer as Danny, the novice thief whose phone call to his cheating girlfriend is overheard by the girls via a scanner. Two not-so-bright cops also show up to “investigate,” although they do very little investigating and has very little to do with the rest of the movie save to give us some laughs at their expense.
Which brings us to High Heels and Low Lifes’s laugh scale. It’s a goofy film, sometimes funny, other times awkward. The awkwardness comes when Mason and his gang tries to rub the girls’ out and gunplay comes into the picture. A bum and a member of the gang get shot, but neither is killed. Writers Kim Fuller and Georgia Pritchett seem to be trying to add some tension to the comedy while keeping the film light and bloodless. They don’t succeed in keeping the film bloodless, but the film does manage to retain most of its comedic tone. The end result is that High Heels and Low Lifes is a comedy with some awkward serious moments that don’t belong. Director Smith gives the movie a competent, although not extraordinary, look.
As Shannon and Frances, Driver and McCormack, respectively, both do a good job. They seem to be enjoying themselves and the interplay between the two characters is fun to watch. It doesn’t hurt that both women look mighty beautiful, or “attractive,” as characters in the movie describes the dynamic duo more than once.
I don’t ask much from movies I’ve never heard of. High Heels and Low Lifes delivers just enough to make me pleasantly surprised.
Mel Smith (director) / Kim Fuller, Georgia Pritchett (screenplay)
CAST: Minnie Driver …. Shannon
Mary McCormack …. Frances
Kevin McNally …. Mason
Mark Williams …. Tremaine
Danny Dyer …. Danny