George Lucas’ american graffiti may not have had the cross-cultural impact of star wars, but its structure – the endearing aimless lives and loves of teenage protagonists over the course of a single night – continues to influence filmmakers around the world. One such example is the new film by writer, director, actor and TV presenter Reggie Yates. His last, pirate, is definitely a winner. Making its international premiere at South by Southwest 2022, the film is a very funny, often sweet and well-acted trip to London on New Year’s Eve 1999.
It was, of course, the infamous “Y2K” New Year. And while there’s not much talk of technological mayhem at midnight, a turn-of-the-century vibe pervades throughout. Or Graffiti had the specter of Vietnam, pirate is more haunted by a future of inflexible connectivity. Yates cleverly adds some humorous references – a character’s lack of knowledge on Google, Tamagotchi references, talking about Fifa for PlayStation–– but it also subtly shows how different the world was two decades ago. The internet is referenced, but there is no social media. No Uber. No iPhone. And you are looking for tickets? Head to a record store. So there’s a certain charm to the middle of this coming-of-age time capsule.
After an adorable energy After Yang-dance-esque intro we’re introduced to three 18-year-olds with a pirate radio station and dreaming of throwing the hottest pre-millennium party in town. Yet even as they struggle for success, the friends begin to drift apart. Cappo (Elliot Edusah) has recently started attending college, and as pirate opens, he prepares to tell his friends that his tenure as manager is coming to an end. Later in the film, it’s told “You’re only our manager because you can’t be an MC or DJ” by Two Tonne (Jordan Peters), the station’s most success-focused member of the trio. Finally, Kidda (Reda Elzaouar), best described as the comic relief of the group.
It’s a charming and friendly trio, thanks to the writing of Yates but also to the work of Edusah, Peters and Elzaouar. Peters, in particular, gives a star performance as Two Tonne, who struggles with his desire for fame as well as his urge to charm Sophie (Kassius Nelson), a girl who has just reappeared in his life. Friendships will be tested as they work towards the goal of gaining access to the “Twice as Nice Y2K Anthems” party.
The sense of place developed by Yates is remarkable. As the trio cruise through London – hunting for tickets, high-end clothes, trying to get a haircut, all in an old yellow Peugeot – audiences begin to grasp the sense that their London is both open and closed. There are endless possibilities but almost as many obstacles. Only Cappo seems to have a clear path out of this pleasant but small-scale existence. As he tells Two Tonne near the start of the film, and again at its end, “We’re not stuck here, T. We’re from here.”
pirate‘ is an adrenaline-pumping compilation of late ’90s garage classics, and even when the script seems rote, the music and performances keep things going with real energy. While there’s a certain nostalgia for a time of incredible music, camaraderie, and a less tech-driven lifestyle, pirate is also aware of the importance of money and connections to success in the club scene. Despite their best efforts, it’s hard not to think that Two Tonne and Kidda have little chance of succeeding, especially without Cappo’s guidance. Even so, the actors playing the trio are very likely to succeed. pirate is a beautiful film, and for Peters, Edusah, Elazour and director Yates, it’s undoubtedly a preview of even bigger hits to come.
pirate screened at SXSW 2022.