An instinct told me to put off seeing Lone Scherfig‘s The Riot Club (IFC Films, 3.27 theatrical/VOD) during last September’s Toronto Film Festival. I had gone cold on her after enduring One Day, which I found almost shockingly tepid and underwhelming after Scherfig’s highly enjoyable Italian for Beginners and especially An Education. The Riot Club is based on Laura Wade‘s Posh, a 2010 stage play about a swaggering attitude of entitlement and imperviousness known to the sons of the British conservative upper classes. (British Prime Minster David Cameron is a former member.) The play and the film (which Wade also wrote) are based on the real-life Bullingdon Club, an exclusive all-male dining club at Oxford University, going all the way back to 1780 and known for its grand banquets and trashing of restaurants.
I think we all know about rich assholes, don’t we? Do we really need to be told again that they’re all quite arrogant and loathsome?
To non-Brits, The Riot Club “will play like Brideshead Revisited meets Donna Tartt’s The Secret History meets Lord of the Flies,” wrote Hollywood Reporter critic David Rooney. “An anesthetizing inevitability creeps into the film as damning evidence stacks up that these ‘Wild Boys’ believe they can buy their way into any pleasure of their choosing and out of any scrape of their making. The far-from-revelatory conclusion is that the deck remains stacked in the class war. Duh.”
“There is, for the most part, little more to The Riot Club than douchebags behaving like douchebags,” wrote Reefilm.com’s David Nusair. “It’s a vibe that grows increasingly difficult to overlook as time progresses, as the latter half of the film is devoted to a seemingly endless gathering at a local pub that escalates to the point of absurdity. The stagy vibe exacerbates the pervasively pointless nature of Wade’s script, and it’s ultimately impossible not to wonder just what the filmmakers were hoping to accomplish when they set out to make this mess.”
London mayor Boris Johnson, another former member of the Bullingdon Club, has tried to distance himself from its reputation, describing it to a BBC interviewer in 2013 as “a truly shameful vignette of almost superhuman undergraduate arrogance, toffishness and twittishness.”
On 2.23.13 the Daily Mirror reported that “an initiation for a new member of the Bullingdon Club involved burning a £50 note in front of a beggar.”