One would think that it’s a truth universally acknowledged that opening a film with a cobbled-together skateboarding EPK featuring Channel 4’s Miquita Oliver would be unwise. But the makers of Chalet Girl clearly thought otherwise. Oliver – no Olivier, mind – functions as the film’s main vehicle for plot exposition. She tells us that 19-year-old Kim Matthews (Jones) was a sporting wunderkind who mysteriously disappeared from the public eye two years ago.
Unbeknown to this vivacious television presenter, though, is Kim’s private anguish which saw her lose her mother in a car accident, and forced her to step down from the half pipe and start shovelling burgers in a fast food joint. Caught in this sub-Wimpy limbo, Kim has to support her father (played with astonishing indifference by Bill Bailey) and run the household. These problems quickly evaporate, however, in the space of about five minutes as Kim is bustled off to an Austrian ski lodge through some maddening deus ex machina, instructed to tidy a house for rich people (the horror), and is soon necking back beer and frolicking naked in a hot tub with the locals.
The prologue’s hastiness smacks of the problems of the film at large: rushed, by-the-numbers, and caught between a lairy Girls Gone Wild: Austrian Chalet Style! aesthetic and a syrupy fairy-tale romance. Particularly in contrast to last year’s superlative Whip It!, this is small beer. Kim’s problems rarely feel like legitimate dilemmas, the gooey romance concocted between her and the blander-than-vanilla Ed Westwick fails to convince, and director Phil Traill’s grasp of the material is essentially unambitious. The only frisson of tension bubbling underneath the surface is the social friction between Kim and her aristocratic, ski-happy overlords which calls to mind George Orwell’s famous contention that England was “the most class-ridden country under the sun”. But given Kim’s dowdy ugly duckling act melts as swiftly as she does in the arms of her flush-with-cash beau, such concerns are decidedly peripheral. By the time Kim has demonstrated her talent for snowboarding, and is gearing up to compete in an indeterminate contest that happens to be taking place on her doorstep, plot overtly trumps theme.
Similarly, though the screenwriter’s blog attests otherwise, the screenplay feels like it was a hastily scribbled premise that was blown up to feature length. There’s a basic patterning to the script: start with one mildly humorous skit involving Jones debasing herself in some way (faceplanting on a bench, corking herself in the face with a champagne bottle) rinse with a shot of her making goggle-eyes at him off Gossip Girl, and repeat ad infinitum. Add in some jovial stock characters designed to hurry the plot along like an outgoing snowboarder with a back problem (guess where she fits in), a hippy-dippy spaced out boarding mentor who calls our hero “Betty” for no apparent reason, and Tamsin Egerton as a promiscuous material girl with a taste for the good life, and the net result is an amiable pudding, if not a satisfying meal.
Elsewhere Bill Nighy is at his somnambulant, show-me-the-paycheque best as he continues to spiral downwards towards the nether-regions of sub-par British comedies (The Boat that Rocked, Wild Target) with a worrying, gay abandon; whilst Brooke Shields as his wife takes to the role of archetypal rich bitch mother like a molly to catnip, playing every scene as if she were on the verge of exploding in a fit of pique. Meanwhile the word “banker” continues to be lexicographically degraded as three of them show up as grubby, sexist swines; chuffing on champagne and ogling at every female chest that passes their way.
Chalet Girl will no doubt be a footnote in Jones’ ascent to the top, and though she’s very winning in the central performance, those claiming that this is anything beyond St. Trinian’s in sky lodge likely hit their head somewhere out on the piste.