Director: Roger Goldby (UK – 2008)
South London, the present. Single mother, Anna, is having a fling with her next-door neighbour, George, who is unhappily married to Anna’s best-friend, Jem. On the other side of town, care worker, Stephen, lives with his needy girlfriend, Fiona; she is desperate to start a family, but he doesn’t want to make a commitment. He finds solace through his work at a local nursing home and his friendship with dying patient Helen. Stephen also looks after absent-minded Roger, who walks every afternoon to the same train station to meet a wife who never arrives. By chance, Anna meets Stephen and Roger in the station waiting room. As Roger reminisces about his wife, Stephen and Anna feel a strong, mutual attraction, but decide to go their separate ways. Unable to stop thinking about each other, Stephen and Anna return frequently to the station, in the hope that their paths will cross. Jem sets Anna up on a surprise date at a dinner party, but Anna confesses that she has fallen for a stranger. Furious, George tells Anna that he loves her and has decided to leave Jem. Anna finishes their affair. Stephen discovers that Helen has died and returns to the hospital to clear her belongings. He breaks up with Fiona. Roger waits at the train station. On the same platform, Anna walks past Steven without noticing him. Roger takes Anna’s hand and leads her to Stephen. Roger imagines meeting his wife from the train. Stephen and Anna walk away hand in hand.
Striving to resonate beyond its farcical romcom trappings, Roger Goldby’s feature debut, The Waiting Room, plays out like an amateurish, existential meditation on relationships, coincidence and the conflict of desire versus responsibility. Set in South London, the film centres on single parent Anna, (Anne-Marie Duff) who, in a rash moment of idle passion- regretted since and determinedly concealed- starts a fumbling affair with her best friend’s husband, George (Rupert Graves). In another part of Balham, Stephen (Ralf Little) works in a care home where he is devoted to dying patient, Helen (Phyllidi Law) and also to absent-minded Roger (Frank Finlay), who makes a daily pilgrimage to the train station to meet his long-deceased wife. Seeing parallels with his own predicament, Stephen spends much of the time dithering over his loyalty to long-term girlfriend, Fiona, who is anxious to start a family. By chance, Anna bumps into Stephen and Roger in the station waiting-room. As Roger reminisces about his wife, the pair exchange longing looks, but go their separate ways. The rest of the film hinges on them meeting again.
Thematically, the characters in The Waiting Room play variations on a single note of the human predicament- loneliness, disappointment, old age. Most of the action takes place in claustrophobic, domestic spaces, where Goldby settles in for long, meditative shots of the terminally guilt-ridden and self-pitying protagonists. This could have been the stuff of dark drama, but the film is quick to take sides, preferring Stephen and Anna’s whimsical idealism to its lesser-sketched relationships. Save for a few transitory moments of inventive charm – Stephen and Anna fantasize a string of romantic encounters- the film feels like a shallow, overcontrolled series of contrivances. Despite a promising premise, its appeal is disappointingly narrow and it’s impossible to care much for the tiresome characters. That said, the film is almost saved by Duff, as the earthy, impetuous Anne, and Little turns in a decent performance as the commitment-phobic Stephen.
Accompanied by an incessantly emotive score, The Waiting Room lumbers to its inevitable conclusion, and we are left to simply tick off the clichés.
Sight & Sound – Vol 18 Issue 6th – June 2008 – Page 80