Comfort and Joy (1984)

Comfort and Joy (1984)

Taglines: Have you ever had one of those weeks…

Glasgow DJ Alan ‘Dicky’ Bird is distraught when his girlfriend Maddy walks out on him. His best friend Colin tries to cheer him up, saying that most people their age would give an arm and a leg to start a new life.

Alan tries to rebuild his life, but he keeps passing women who resemble Maddy, notably one serving ice cream in a Mr Bunny van. He follows it, buying an ice cream when it stops. As he’s walking back to his car, two men in balaclavas smash up the van. One of them recognises Alan and demands an autograph before driving off. Alan goes back to the van and offers to help, but they’re clearly in a hurry to get away. That night, he has a vivid dream about Maddy returning to him.

The next day, he opens his car to find several upturned ice-cream cones on the back seat and a note warning him to steer clear. After his show (the Dicky Bird Early Worm Show) and a frustrating session recording Thrifty Pops jingles, he goes to see Hilary, his boss, and asks if he can make an investigative documentary. Hilary is unsure, using a metaphor about being caught above the waves while transferring between ships. He thinks Alan’s depressed, but gives him the go-ahead anyway. But after Alan leaves, he asks his secretary to dig out his contract to see when it expires.

Comfort and Joy (1984)

The next day, Alan is told that he will be met in the car park after work. He follows a Mr McCool’s ice cream van to a large building. Getting out, he is introduced to Bruno, his brother Paolo and Renato, and is invited inside to meet Mr McCool. McCool explains that there’s a system of unwritten territorial rules that Mr Bunny has been flouting. McCool wants Alan to talk to Mr Bunny to make him see reason, because as a respected DJ people trust him. He gives Alan a guided tour of the factory and a souvenir tub of ice cream.

After asking Mr Bunny to get in touch with him over the airwaves, he spots a Mr Bunny van and follows it to be Mr Bunny’s headquarters. Mr Bunny, whose real name is Trevor, asks Alan if he has any idea what he’s getting into. McCool wants to drive him out of business by controlling every franchise. He tells Alan to tell McCool that they’ll sell his ice cream but under his conditions. Alan is given another souvenir tub of ice cream.

About the Film

Following the critical and commercial success of Local Hero (1983), Bill Forsyth had little difficulty in getting a new film off the ground – though this would sadly be the last time in his career that there would be such a brief gap between features.

Comfort and Joy (1984) marks a watershed in several respects: despite the title and plenty of Forsyth’s trademark quirky observations, it’s ultimately a bleak, pessimistic film that was disconcerting at the time – but in retrospect it can now be seen to clearly foreshadow his later work.

Like Gregory in Gregory’s Girl (1980) and Mac in Local Hero, Alan ‘Dicky’ Bird (Bill Paterson) is trying to come to terms with a dramatic change in his life by adopting a fresh outlook, but the crucial difference here is that for all the appearance of success (even securing a financial stake in the new ice-cream fritters venture), at the end he is still left alone in a largely deserted radio station on Christmas Day trying to whip up a party atmosphere – presumably aimed at others in his situation.

Though there’s plenty of verbal and visual humour (a running gag sees Alan regularly wiping white substances – bird droppings, snow, ice cream – off his car roof), Alan himself barely seems to notice: he sleepwalks through his radio show and his inane jingles like the professional he clearly is, but his heart is still with the departed Maddy (Eleanor David) – his chasing of Charlotte (C.P. Grogan) is so half-hearted that he may well just be going through the motions as a matter of course.

And much the same is true of his dealings with Messrs Bunny (Alex Norton) and McCool (Roberto Bernardi) – he ultimately solves their little local difficulty not so much through a sense of altruism but because it’s become too annoying to ignore, especially when his car is repeatedly damaged as a side-effect. While the ice-cream war that drives the main plot motor initially seems like a typically Forsythian invention, it is in fact based on real-life incidents.

Comfort and Joy Movie Poster (1984)

Comfort and Joy (1984)

Oidected by: Bill Forsyth
Starring: Bill Paterson, Eleanor David, Clare Grogan, Alex Norton, Patrick Malahide, Rikki Fulton, Roberto Bernardi, George Rossi
Screenplay by: Bill Forsyth
Production Design by: Adrienne Atkinson
Cinematography by: Chris Menges
Film Editing by: Michael Ellis
Costume Design by: Lindy Hemming, Mary-Jane Reyner
Art Direction by: Andy Harris
Music by: Mark Knopfler
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release Date: October 10, 1984