Being Sold (2011) – By Philip Smolen

Shot in an incredible two days, “Being Sold” is a delicious social commentary that is also screamingly funny. In many ways it echoes the great films of 1940s director Preston Sturges where an innocent’s eyes are opened to the true ways of the world. Director Phil Hawkins (“The Butterfly Tattoo”, 2009) tells the story of John Foster (Christopher Dane), an unemployed and disheveled mess. Desperate, he and his useless sot of a friend Chris (Lee Boardman) decide to place a few items of John’s for sale on a British auction site during a drunken binge. John auctions off a slightly soiled pair of his underwear, a toothbrush, and himself. He’s hoping that the auction will get him noticed by a few British companies that will hire him for his ingenuity and imagination. Sure that no one will meet this, John asks for a reserve of one million pounds for himself as a safety net.

With less than 90 minutes to go in the auction, John is shocked when the local press shows up at his door and he becomes an instant celebrity. First, pushy, glamorous reporter Maia Long (Jessica Blake) mesmerizes John into thinking that the publicity from an exclusive interview with her will get him money, something his loving rational thinking wife Irene (Lesley Joseph) knows won’t happen. Then once the live coverage begins, a crowd of neighbors and onlookers gather outside John’s house, along with vendors of every kind including one that sells John’s image on a t-shirt. When rival reporter Dan Morgan (Dan Turner) arrives and competes with Maia to get an exclusive, the final seed of lunacy is sown. At first, John is delighted at the attention, and tries to exploit it for his gain. But he doesn’t realize that he is dealing with hype professionals who outsmart him at every turn. What’s worse is that the bidding for John keeps going up and up. With only a few minutes to go, it stands at nearly one million pounds. Will the auction site really allow the sale of a human being? And if so, what will happen to John?

Hawkins shoots the film in real time, letting his camera capture the insanity and hypocrisy that develops from John’s drunken mistake. He revels in the behind the scenes TV shenanigans as reporters Blake and Turner repeatedly try to outdo each other. The dialogue here (written by Hawkins from an idea by Aidan MacGrath) is especially pointed and biting.

The film’s great irony, of course, is that everyone is making money out of John’s situation except John. The vendors outside his home are doing smashup business, and both reporters are using John to further their careers. They cajole, prod, and promise the world to John and his family, all in an attempt to increase their ratings.

Highlights in the film include John’s initial confusion about the auction; Irene’s rational pleading that he needs to stop the madness, the onlookers’ manipulation by the media, and the scenes between Dan and Maia. Especially hilarious is the constant ticker tape that rolls by onscreen (from the TV stations’ live coverage), with the claims about John and his family growing more and more ridiculous and outrageous.

All of the performances in the film are refreshing and smart. Christopher Dane is smashing as the naïve John. Despite his age, he is totally innocent to the ways of the world, and he captures his character’s confusion at this new situation perfectly. I also love the way Lesley Joseph embodies the weariness and frustration of John’s wife. She only wants to get on with their life and get things back to the way they were. Lee Boardman is also excellent as John’s friend who is totally blinded by the media coverage and continually mucks things up. Lesley Blake and Dan Turner capture the haughtiness and ego of their news reporters brilliantly. They nip and snipe at each other, always aware that ratings are everything.

“Being Sold” is a sparkling parody that riffs on the instant celebrity culture that we find ourselves mired in. It is a smart, witty, and howlingly funny modern indie comedy that takes a ridiculous situation and uses it to say something important about humanity’s current condition.

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