Chris and Tina, the subjects of Sightseers, are so ordinary they’re almost invisible. The roly-poly, middle-aged pair, dating for only three months but showing every sign of being frozen for years in a dreary marriage, wants to broaden its horizons and get to know each other by taking a road trip in Chris’ (Steve Oram) motor home — “caravan” in British usage — to some of the prime tourist spots in Yorkshire, England. Places like Dingly Dell and the Keswick Pencil Museum.
But first Tina (Alice Lowe) has to placate her nagging, disabled mother, Carol (Eileen Davies), who’s in mourning over the loss of her lapdog, Poppy. Once that’s accomplished, the couple sets off for adventure. We assume it’s going to be a miserable trip, but we have no way of knowing just how miserable it could possibly be. Director Ben Wheatley, armed with a screenplay arrived at by actors Lowe and Oram with writer Amy Jump, has arranged a wide-open field of inappropriateness and mean-spirited laughs in front of Chris and Tina, lying in wait.
It’s not that everything that can go wrong, does. But rather that, as in the case of ginger-bearded “book writer” Chris, who first met Tina at a capoeira class, we’re just beginning to find out what makes these people tick. And the more we know, the more bizarre it gets. Filmmaker Mike Leigh’s hilarious 1976 TV comedy Nuts in May featured a similarly unfortunate pair of nitwits (played by Alison Steadman and Roger Sloman) running into annoyances while camping, but Wheatley raises the stakes — if not exactly to zombies-in-the-woods level, at least to the point where a kidnapped pooch named Banjo, Tina’s wool-knit crotchless bikini, and various little murders come into play. Other People are ultimately to blame, of course. They always refuse to cooperate. One “uh-oh” moment invariably leads to another.
Veteran TV character actors Lowe (This Is Jinsy) and Oram (Heading Out, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps) have a grand time as the two Psychotic Imbeciles on Holiday. “I just wanna be feared and respected,” muses Steve, whose writer’s block registers on his face like constipation. For Tina: “It’s just about personal empowerment.” Tell that to the drunken bachelorette partiers or Martin the inventor of the “cara-pod.” Tina and Chris’ transformation from not-so-passive-aggressive nerds to TV-news crime-wave terrorists is one of the funniest, and bleakest, comedies of the season.