Chalet Girl

Director    Phil Traill
Starring    Felicity Jones, Ed Westwick, Tamsin Egerton, Bill Bailey, Bill Nighy
Release    16 MARCH (UK)    Certificate 12A
3 stars


15th March 2011

Billed as “this year's Bridget Jones”, starring a TV-drama heartthrob du jour and with a trailer that declares it to be a ‘snow-mantic comedy' - everything about this film groans “laaame”. And yet, with likable leads, an engaging supporting cast and an avalanche of charm, this by-the-book Brit-com somehow manages to be hugely enjoyable. Look, just go with me on this one.

So the story begins (rather gratingly with two T4 presenters) with Kim (Jones) as a 19-year-old tomboy who used to be a champion skateboarder until her mum died in a car accident. Now she works in a dead-end fast-food joint to support her nice-but-useless father (Bailey). That is until she gets a great holiday job offer to work in a chalet in the Alps. While there, she faces class prejudice from the other posher employees, falls for the rich chalet-owner's spoken-for son, Jonny (Westwick), and regains enough sporting confidence to learn how to snowboard and enter the big tournament that promises a big prize-money pay-off.

The result is a film that is split pretty evenly between being part standard rom-com fare and part sporting underdog story, and both halves are played out using such a predictable formula it's as though director Phil Traill (nominated for the Worst Director Razzie for All About Steve) was following two ‘How To' guides simultaneously. Plus, a rom-com mixed with sports? You can imagine the number of montages (I lost count).

”That's great - then put the satsuma in my mouth and we can get started.”

But, somehow, the film's terrible story-by-numbers means that the overall plot (for which we all obviously know the ending) automatically takes a back seat and allows everyone on screen some space to just be affable and funny. Felicity Jones holds the film together as the young leading lady Kim and, as far as dynamic, independent teen girls go, she's among the spunkiest, with Jones showing off great comic-timing as well as enough acting flair to carry the weightier moments - as displayed in one surprisingly heartbreaking scene in which Kim finally opens up about her mum's death.

Playing her hunky love interest is the teen-audience-baiting Ed Westwick, star of the I-only-watch-it-because-my-girlfriend-is-obsessed-with-it US teen drama Gossip Girl. Westwick isn't given much to work with other than to look handsome and occasionally engage enigmatically with Kim, but his undeniable charisma makes a thankless role more memorable than it deserves to be.

“Don't worry if your glass seems ‘fizzier' than mine…”

Bringing up the rear, however, and showing how a good supporting cast can save a movie from utter banality, are the wonderful Tamsin Egerton as Kim's stuck-up slutty roommate, the dependable Bill Bailey, as Kim's supportive but incompetent dad who slowly learns to take care of himself and, unsurprisingly stealing every scene, the magnetic Bill Nighy who, as Jonny's super-rich dad, teases and lends support in equal measure. In fact, come the film's frenzied climax (will she win the tournament? Will she get the guy? Will she be accepted by her peers?), it's hard not to say that Bill Nighy saves the day all by himself just by being so…cool.

By the time the credits roll, following an hour and a half of impressive snow skills and some quite stunning scenic shots, all the actors are shown singing along to a final soundtrack song at various stages of the film's production and it's hard not to instantly forgive all the script's occasional faults and just be swept up in the feel-good nature of such a charming, easily-likable release. And when those cringeworthy T4 presenters show up again at the end to round the film out, this time it actually seems kinda fun.

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