Actor Richard E. Grant (Gosford Park) makes his directorial debut with the semi-autobiographical WAH-WAH.
The snooty, euphemistic title comes from a character referencing local British baby-talk in a small South African country, Swaziland, where their rule is coming to an end during the early 1970's.
Starring Gabriel Byrne (Assault on Precinct 13), Emily Watson (Angela's Ashes), and Nicholas Hoult (About A Boy), Grant's coming-of-age tale is a personal, theatrical, if sometimes unpolished look under the watchful eye of an expatriate community.
There are imbibed bedhoppers in the life of Ralph, played at first by Zachary Fox, then Hoult, as this character is the Grant surrogate. Byrne is the wild father Harry with psychotic tendencies probably because his wife, Lauren, icily endowed by Miranda Richardson (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), left him for another man.
The puppet theatre is a kind of safe haven for Ralph who'll later be thrilled by the radical dynamism of A Clockwork Orange. Hoult shows up as Ralph returning after boarding school to find his American stepmom (Watson sports an interesting American accent) tweaking with the proper English enclave dubbed with phrases like the title or "hubbly-jubbly."
Marking the time as Britain is about to let the nation be ruled by its king, a local diplomats' club is scaling a production of "Camelot". The script rather irritatingly dovetails the discord of Ralph's family to the decline of the Empire. The domestic problems feature much shouting and walls hit with whiskey glasses.
Grant does show much promise from behind the camera in working with his lenser in filming on location in a place that seems unaffected by time. Maybe his deft handling of his cast, especially Watson and Julie Walters (Billy Elliot) as Ralph's strange aunt, adds the kind of levity and humanity that personified the highs and lows that he felt as a kid. Unfortunately, the story doesn't have the kind of wry spark that Grant often essays as a character actor, and coalesces, along thematic lines, far less convincingly than the characters around a young teen having a trying time.