British actor and director David Morrissey’s Don’t Worry About Me lived a first life as an award-winning play (The Pool – City of Culture?) written and performed by James Brough and Helen Elizabeth. Don’t Worry About Me follows twentysomething David (Brough) on a bus into Liverpool for the painfully misguided purpose of chasing down the previous evening’s one-night stand, Karen. When she leaves their London hotel room to head back to Liverpool, where she lives, works, and has to deliver a Very Important Presentation, she makes it clear what is what, turning down David’s offer of his phone number. Still, he chases after her, ostensibly to return misplaced documents for her presentation. (In the midst of their strangely half-clothed hotel room sex, documented at length in the opening credits montage, it slips under a bed.)
That Karen loses her shit and rejects David again upon his arrival is as inconsequential as the whole set up; it serves to place David in Liverpool, where he will drink off the rejection, fall asleep in the street, get robbed, and meet Tina (Elizabeth), who takes the rest of the afternoon off work at David’s cajoling to show him the city. This day-tripper premise allows the film to indulge in its best quality, found in regularly interspersed shots that linger on the cityscape. But they never seem to represent David’s perspective as the accidental tourist, which is probably for the best — he’d just find a way to make a dick joke, as he does when shown the stunning Cromley Beach installation Another Place by artist Antony Gormley. Instead, these charming interludes seem personally proffered by Morrissey (a Liverpudlian himself) to the viewer.
While the two undergo the whimsical sightseeing romp at David’s insistence, he finds ways to almost willfully misunderstand and trivialize the sights Tina shares. If the purpose is to assert the singular fondness a Liverpool local has for the city, it pales next to how juvenile it makes David out to be. One guesses that his nonstop gaffes are meant to be interpreted as lovably oblivious. But occasional calculated nuances written into his character do little to distract from the fact that he’s just an unmitigated, unlikable dolt. For instance: After Tina overhears him talking on the phone to a friend to whom he reports that although she’s frigid and “deprived,” he has her in the bag for a bang, and after he repeatedly calls her brother with Down syndrome a cruel epithet in the same phone conversation, she takes off running. He spends the rest of the film chasing after her, one blundering misstep after another. The film ends when he finally manages to sleep with her.
For a mere £100,000 (about $152,500) and with a small cast and crew, Morrissey does well with his resources. There’s nothing formally offensive; its editing keeps to a thoughtful pace, and the cinematography is frequently beautiful. Scenes showcasing local public art installations allow for a handful of transcendent moments: When David contemplates Another Place’s iron sculptures of male figures submerged at different increments in the sand and surf, Morrissey’s blocking of David versus iron man pleasantly evokes Agnes Varda’s La Pointe Courte. And in David’s initial solo wanderings in the city, he encounters Richard Wilson’s Turning the Place Over, an ovoid eight-meter cutout section of a building’s façade that mechanically rotates in three dimensions and bewilders David for a split second. The larger-than-life absurdity looms unapologetically over him, and it creates an instant of surreal perfection. Unfortunately, these few striking moments get lost amid the plodding narrative and David’s irredeemably unsympathetic character.
Although Brough and Elizabeth adapted their play into this film’s screenplay alongside Morrissey and even portray its protagonists, one wonders what was lost in translation. (For one thing, the play was written in prose and verse.) In the film, Tina is sharp and quick and never misses a beat with the perfect retort to David’s inanities. She’s the film’s final saving grace. But when it all devolves into melodrama, provoking the inexplicable outpour of deeply private confessions and a disingenuous newfound understanding between David and Tina, one wonders if it wouldn’t have done better to stay on the stage. Morrissey’s best contribution is his eye for his own beloved city and the way he graciously shares it with the viewer. It’s undeniably bewitching, and deserves a better vehicle.