“It went a bit Adele,” remarks one woman in a London nightclub’s toilets, where almost the entirety of Powder Room takes place. M.J. Delaney directs the film that, aside from some animated flourishes, seems very much to be a stageplay brought to screen – which it is, originally by Rachel Hirons and titled When Women Wee. The setting is one of either mystique or familiarity, depending upon the viewer’s gender. It also explains why women go to the toilets in groups: to learn life lessons.
The two standout scenes are during the opening and closing credits, with neither having much relation to the filler in between. A small river of urine is what the audience first sees, dripping down a road outside a nightclub queue, which is an apt introduction: here’s a slinking story that won’t shy from the familiar griminess of staying out later than the last tube.
Sheridan Smith takes the lead as Sam, who’s heading not only for a dance floor, but also a midlife crisis. Sam is reuniting with her old friend Michelle (Kate Nash) who’s now hip, fashionable and might as well be having Kate Nash’s pop career. In return, Sam pretends to be a number of things (a lawyer, happy, etc) while hiding her friendship with the three pissed-up ladettes (Jaime Winstone, Riann Steele, Sarah Hoare) also out on the razz.
Sam can nod along to Michelle’s disdain for the trio, without letting on the truth, because of ladies’ room architecture: revolving doors and cubicles allow the facade to continue far beyond plausibility. That’s not a criticism, as Powder Room is about the vignettes of conversation and drunken philosophy dished out by a hand-dryer. The problem is the lack of depth, despite the opportunities and Shakespearian structure (there’s a watchful toilet attendant, and the plot is surprisingly redolent of Shakespeare’s comedies).
In opting for light humour, the kitchen sink is left untouched by anything other than vomit. The jokes range from MDMA adventures and Sam’s unconvincing lies, only to be interrupted by heavy-handed monologues about “life” and all it encompasses (mostly careers and relationships). The thin writing is exposed over 86 minutes. Powder Room is probably more suited to a 30-minute sitcom, or divided like Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth.
A nightclub is not an ideal place for conversation. Powder Room includes the distorted bass that pounds into toilets, the sounds of piss, drunken slurs and noisy flushes. The novelty wears off quickly and lacks the edge initially promised, which in a way makes the film a bit “Adele” in itself, and rather like spending a long time in the company of strangers pretending to be drunk.
84 mins approx