Any film that revs up with Samba Pa Ti, Santana's classic slice of instrumental erotica, and features an undergraduate with geometric equations scrawled all over his body, merits close attention. And although movies about "relationships" are burgeoning in line with the rabbit population, this latest British attempt can happily hold its head above the throng.
In a screenplay that captures a vivid sense of what's happening while avoiding plot overload, Moore, the award-winning adapter of Gulliver's Travels, charts the evolving friendship between five students across three decades, kicking off in 1979 with flunked exams, afros, dope and The Wombles before jumping to a tension-simmering 80s wedding and winding up in the 90s with frank exchanges at a Mediterranean villa.
The sexual chemistry between the ambitious Scott (Lester) and sculptor Bryony (Robbins) provides most of the emotional momentum, though the setbacks and successes of the others pack a few surprises too. The healing force in their lives is an a cappella group they formed at college and even a moonlit singalong of the titular old Drifters hit comes off here as romantic rather than corny.
Despite having a middle-class setting which many would label as decidedly unhip, the film succeeds by tugging both heartstrings and laughter lines without grandstanding and by crafting five likeable characters whose unresolved search for personal fulfilment rings true. And the slick ensemble acting comes courtesy of a cast of cinematic newcomers (including stage star Lester, next up in Mike Nichols' Primary Colours), while Moore directs with imagination and no mean ironic touch. Small, then, but skilfully formed.