Written and directed by Tommy Gillard, Carl (Tom Greaves) is forced to question what it means to be a man when a new, mysterious member of the badminton club joins in with the charity tournament. Also starring: Niall Kiely, Sam Morgan, Alexander Pearn and James Cotter.
Winner of ‘Best Short Film’ at this year’s London Film Festival, Gillard’s film is possibly the most thematically layered, funny and observant portrayal of badminton ever to be seen on screen. It’s immediately charming with its almost Anderson-esque style, the editing (by Gillard and Boris Hallvig) really stands out as it’s impeccably sharp, the pace and competitive atmosphere that it creates is superb and kicks things off with a bang.
The comedy is flawless, both in the writing and acting, it’s delivered with perfect timing, the constant euphemisms are like they’ve stolen Nigella’s iconic saucy tone and it’s genuinely hilarious. That alone is more than enough for a 13-minute short film but the filmmakers go so much further with it, it’s an exploration of toxic masculinity and closeted homosexuality, as well as the consequent effect those two have on one another and a whole host of sexual tension. It’s ingenious in its parody style depiction of over-compensation of traditional masculinity to mask envy, sexual attraction and insecurity. There’s the classic vying for alpha status, the browbeaten, aggressive reaction when a newcomer takes the top spot and a little bit of McEnroe style anger. However, the most impressively introduced element of its story is certainly the overriding sexual tension and the denial from Carl (Greaves) versus the sly acknowledgement and encouragement from Morgan (Kiely). It’s surprisingly gripping to watch to find out whether Carl will give in to his urges, and it’s an aspect that the direction and editing frame magnificently to emphasise it, it’s almost artful how Gillard uses his camera movement to indicate the sexuality of it.
Of course none of that would work without a great cast to bring it to life and they have that in spades, the leads Greaves and Kiely are incredible, they’re simply a delight to watch. The chemistry that they build through their competitive and aggressive interactions is honestly powerful, the comedy doesn’t take away from the fact that the attraction between the two of them is constantly at a breaking point. Greaves brings through that identity struggle extremely well, with a very classically masculine physicality and cadence but with plenty of expressions and emotions that clearly show the internal confusion and conflict. Kiely gives Morgan a Timothée Chalamet type air, which is not just a reference to the dark curly hair, it’s the mix of confidence and self-assurance while remaining likable. He makes the character just cocky enough to get away with being somewhat arrogant while still feeling like a good guy and presents the ultimate opposition for Carl in how comfortable he is with himself. They’re supported by a great ensemble of actors as their badminton cronies, they create almost this cult-like impression to their charity badminton tournament, which is entirely unexpected and the comedy support they provide is brilliant.
Shuttlecock is hilarious, sharp and stylish, Gillard’s direction and editing are superb, the atmosphere that the film creates is bursting with energy. The performances by Greaves and Kiely are absolutely brilliant, the sexual tension between them is so well done that it’s thrilling to watch. It’s very clear why this took the top prize at LFF this year, it’s an impeccably well-made film all round, what it achieves within just 13-minutes is incredibly impressive.