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Can Dickie Find Any Comfort And Joy?

Updated on January 15, 2016

The 1984 movie Comfort And Joy takes a look at a man whose life takes some significant changes just before Christmas arrives. Bill Paterson plays Alan "Dickie" Bird, a popular radio DJ in Glasgow. Even though he's been with his girlfriend Maddy (Eleanor David) for four years, she decides to leave him, and take almost everything in the house they shared. He vents to his doctor friend Colin (Patrick Malahide) as he goes about the process of refurnishing his place. While thoughts of Maddy remain on his mind, he spots an attractive young woman named Charlotte (Clare Grogan) in a ice cream truck driven by fellow seller and fleet owner Trevor (Alex Norton). When the truck stops, Dickie stops to order some treats. After the purchase, he sees men vandalize the truck as Trevor and Charlotte defend themselves and force the men to run. When returns to aid the sellers, Trevor tells Dickie that he knows that the attackers come from a competitor who believes Trevor and Charlotte are hawking their treats in territory belonging to this competitor. Dickie uses his audio pulpit to address Trevor's concerns.

That draws a response from the competitor, an Italian-born ice cream man known as Mr. McCool (Roberto Bernardi), who reaches out to Dickie through his son, Bruno (George Rossi). McCool proposes a deal that he believes will make both parties happy. The on-air remarks continue, and lead Dickie to ask station manager Hilary Sandeman (Rikki Fulton) to look into the possibility of expanding his role on the radio. Hilary humors Dickie while asking his secretary to answer some questions about the DJ's contract behind Dickie's back. When the veiled messages continue, Hilary takes Dickie off the air until Bird sees a psychologist. The ice cream war escalates, and even Dickie's beloved BMW does not emerge undamaged. The mechant feud continues because of one important detail neither side shared with Dickie.

Comfort And Joy is a quietly humorous look at a different kind of holiday anxiety from writer-director Bill Forsyth. The happy feelings of the season seem to be eluding Dickie day by day as Christmas approaches. Maddy acts like an ex-wife more than an ex-girlfriend as she tries to empty the home of almost everything, but politely relents on some things when Dickie debates her. I can only speak for my part of the Northern Hemisphere, but I almost never see an ice cream truck on the streets once fall arrives, let alone in December. Forsyth, though, also recycles an old joke to good effect, when Hilary wonders if there's a sanity clause in Dickie's contract. Forsyth also shows a quirkiness in certain scenes, such as the one where Dickie visits Trevor's truck depot, and the director shows a couple of men doing nothing but performing the music heard on the trucks. Comfort And Joy is a most enjoyable follow-up to one of Forsyth's best received works, Local Hero. The film also reunited the director with Local Hero music scorer, Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits fame) and cinematographer Chris Menges, who'd win an Oscar for his fine work on another 1984 release, The Killing Fields.

Paterson does a nice job as the popular, but beleaguered, Dickie. Even as his world is thrown into minor turmoil, people keep asking him for his autograph, including Maddy's movers and the truck vandals. Dickie is also a smart man, using his time with Maddy to formulate the end game for the ice cream vendors. His trouble with radio spots, though, shows that Dickie doesn't please everybody very easily. Fulton is amusing as a manager who will say anything to appease Dickie, then go and do things to go back on his word. Norton is also good in support as the less-than-forthright Trevor. David and Grogan (who was also the lead singer of Altered Images in that day) are good as the women who help to make Dickie's life a mess. I like Malahide as the friend who helps Dickie put his situation in perspective. Arnold Brown has an amusing cameo as the psychologist who learns from Dickie that the doctor's World War II anecdote is not at all unique.

Comfort And Joy debuted in the same era as two other holiday favorites of mine - A Christmas Story and Gremlins. Comfort And Joy, though, doesn't have the laugh-out-loud humor as the other two. It keeps the holiday spirit low-key, as I suspect that many people who aren't the same age as Ralphie Parker do. Dickie Bird appreciates the notion of peace on earth and good will toward men (and his car), but finds little of it coming his way. He uses his popularity in an effort to bring peace to warring merchants as he starts to re-examine what he wants for himself. His biggest Christmas wish is for things that last for years and years.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Comfort And Joy four stars. God rest ye merry, Dickie Bird.


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