What is the history of Europe if not a constant cycle of relationship breakdowns followed by conflict? While I doubt British indie filmmaker Jamie Patterson had this in mind when bringing Tracks to the silver screen, there are certain echoes between the relationship battles we see onscreen, and the political fighting we see play out on the news. Fortunately though, and unlike Teresa May’s ABBA-inspired dance moves, Patterson’s film mines most of its comedy from a great script and dedicated performances from the leading duo.
The proceedings kick-off with Chris (Chris Willoughby) and Lucy (April Pearson) preparing to spend a few weeks interrailing between Europe’s grandest cities in the hope that their fractured relationship can be repaired. While they take in the sights and sounds, it soon becomes clear that the two of them had very different expectations for the trip. As the tension between the pair starts to build, accompanied by some hilarious fails, it seems that this European trip might not bring them closer together, but instead tear them apart.
At first it’s easy to assume that Tracks is just a low-budget British version of 2004’s Eurotrip. And to be fair there are similarities. But whereas Eurotrip’s comedy came from “normal” Americans clashing with increasingly ludicrous portrayals of Europeans, Tracks has a little more respect for our brethren across the channel. Not once are stereotypes invoked, either for the Europeans or the visiting British duo.
True be told, Tracks has far more in common with the Steve Coogan/Rob Brydon The Trip Trilogy (or at least the latter two parts.) Comedic yes, but fundamentally a more down-to-earth exploration of a human relationship. And that’s really down to the amazing script by Finn Bruce and Jamie Patterson, as well as some moments of (assumed) improv as the film’s two leads are also credited co-writers.
That’s not to say Tracks doesn’t wear its silliness on its sleeve, with the character of Chris ending up as the nucleus to a multitude of farcical situations. (Hell, if there’s one thing I took away from this film, it’s that Willoughby has absolutely no problem getting his kit off for ANY situation!) Add in Pearson as the constantly put-upon Lucy, and you have a relationship in the vein of Frank and Betty Spencer from Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em.
That relationship acts as the second leg in Tracks’ tripod of excellence. It’s already quite amazing how much comedy is extracted from what should be mundane couple’s conversations; but nothing would work without the convincing chemistry between the leading duo. While it’s true that Willoughby has the more overt comical significance, without the interaction with Pearson’s “straight man”, Tracks would have no passion to its very British tale of jocular woe.
Along with the writing and the leads, the third leg of the tripod would have to be Tracks’ cinematography. Make no mistake, this film is incredibly small scale, with multiple handheld shots by the two leads and Pearson even doubling up as the film’s only make-up artist. Therefore it’s a credit to cinematographer Edouard Fousset that, with such limited resources, he’s managed to create a love letter to Europe. Whether it be the more intimate indoor scenes or the expansive canvas of Europe’s national attractions, there’s a dedication that (along with David Fricker’s editing) makes Tracks a breezy and memorable journey through the heart and soul of both Europe and a human relationship.