While out walking their dogs one day, pensioners Dave (I, Daniel Blake’s Dave Johns) and Fern (Alison Steadman) cross paths in a chance meeting. Despite starting off on the wrong foot, the pair soon spark a fast friendship. Frequently encountering one another at the local fields – a hotspot for canine owners – their relationship begins to evolve over the course of 23 strolls as they get to know each other more intimately. However, with both of their pasts clinging onto them, complications soon arise, creating a rift between them when certain truths are revealed.
Occasionally endearing but often clumsy in its delivery, 23 Walks (the third feature to be written and directed by Paul Morison) finds itself somewhere between the realms of the romance study of 500 Days of Summer and the social commentary of I, Daniel Blake. It’s an odd balance to strike and it doesn’t take long for the cracks to show under the strain of trying to hold these two sides together.
The metaphorical glue that does stick the script together (for the most part anyway) is Johns’s performance. Radiating with every ounce of the kind of likeable humility that he demonstrated in Loach’s film, his character welcomes viewers to see from his perspective as naturally as Johns plays the part. He’s so skilled at getting spectators on his side, in fact, that he makes Steadman’s Fern come across as cold in comparison. Although, her own acting does invite the audience to warm to her character eventually. The former is the driving force behind many of the emotional beats that move the plot forward. And when these moments appear, he ensures that they hit hard.
Despite the stars’ best efforts, the script is the only thing getting in their way. For whatever reason, the filmmaker feels the need to constantly pile on more hardship to their situation. Even when the credits are only minutes from rolling and the resolution is in sight, Morrison cannot resist throwing more melodrama into the mix. And much like these last-minute additions, much of the exaggerated twists that preceded them don’t have any meaningful consequences. Manifesting as narrative obstacles, these plot points are simply shrugged off in the next scene.
A textbook case of trying to do too much, 23 Walks’ overly ambitious script is what ultimately undermines itself and the central stars’ shining performances.
23 Walks is released digitally on demand on 25th January 2021.
Watch the trailer for 23 Walks here: