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Ben Wheatley's excellent new comedy Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is a dizzy exploration of family and its many burdens - 

Families have sensitive structures – they’re like a game of Jenga. When one piece is thrown off balance, efforts must be made to keep it standing. But when several blocks have been pulled, it’s only inevitable for the whole tower to come tumbling down. That’s essentially what happens to Colin Burstead (Neil Maskell), the eponymous protagonist in Ben Wheatley’s new claustrophobic comedy about an endlessly dysfunctional family.

In Happy New Year, Colin Burstead (formerly titled Colin You Anus), Colin has arranged a get-together at a posh country house for his extended family on New Year’s Eve. He attempts to manage the family under one roof, a seemingly impossible task. But when his brother David (Sam Riley) comes back after five years of estrangement following a devastating event, the desire for peace among family members is threatened.

We’re first struck by the bewildering number of characters filling the lens. There are sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, parents, one grandparent, and friends – all appearing to have their own issues. Some personalities are instantly recognisable, like when the mother of the family (Doon Mackichan) trips up on the doorstep and demands serious attention for her ‘injury’, or the sister (Hayley Squires) who feels like she doesn’t fit into the family, or the friend (Asim Chaudhry) who suddenly rocks up without being invited.

It is confusing to work out who’s related to whom, and how, and who’s just a friend, and what the history is between certain characters. But, as outsiders looking in, it’s like we’re meant to feel this way. The population of the family is dizzying, making the emotions between them all the more intense – especially with Laurie Rose’s permanently handheld camera shaking and zooming everywhere, as well as Wheatley’s own quick-pace cutting.

However, despite the drama, Colin Burstead is also breathlessly funny with fast and seething insults, uniquely crafted to every character. Wheatley captures family frustrations that are heavily relatable to those of us blessed and burdened with big families, with such powerful and hilarious depth.

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is like a Dogma 95 film written by Armando Iannucci. The film is a comedy, but builds to something more emotional, more loving, and more painful. It’s like laughing before being kicked in the ribs. Wheatley shows that you can choose to embrace your family or reject them entirely – but the love is never lost, which makes rejection even more tragic. It will leave you smiling, bruised, and sad.


Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is now showing in select NZ cinemas!