The Be All and End All

(UK 2009)

‘Beautiful’ is not a word that comes to mind when describing male relationships, especially one between two working class teenagers in Liverpool. The Be All and End All, though, is just that: a beautiful story about friendship.

15-year-old Robbie (Josh Bolt) is stuck in the children’s ward of a hospital. No one will tell him what’s wrong with him. He complains to best mate Ziggy (Eugene Byrne) during one of his daily visits. Ziggy sneaks a peek at Robbie’s chart and finds out he has cardiomyopathy, something he can barely pronounce. He researches it online and learns it’s a fatal heart condition. As any good friend would do, he tells Robbie, who has a wish: he doesn’t want to die a virgin. As any good friend would do, Ziggy hatches a plan to get Robbie laid—a few plans, actually. Robbie can’t leave the hospital, which proves to be a challenge. But that’s what friends are for.

The Be All and End All occasionally dips into Afterschool Special mode and has a few underdeveloped story lines, but director and producer Bruce Webb keeps it real. He composes a surprisingly honest and emotional work out of a simplistic script using mostly inexperienced actors. Webb strikes the perfect balance between humor—bawdy and otherwise—and serious drama without getting ribald, morose, or sappy (that rather maudlin soundtrack is another story). It’s a real feat considering the subject matter; this is a film that easily could have been a disaster without just the right touch. Bolt and Byrne are brilliant; their characters and the friendship between them are authentic. I felt everything they went through—even when their thick brogues were hard on my American ear. Liza Tarbuck is great as Tina, the stern but compassionate nurse watching over Robbie.

I first caught The Be All and End All when it screened at the Chicago International Film Festival in 2009, and I loved it. I watched it again to see if it still works—it does. It’s a finely executed story that’s funny and serious, and it tugs at the heartstrings in all the right ways.

100 minutes
Not rated

(Home via Amazon) B+