Directed by Stephen Gallacher, Unexpected Item is the tender tale of a boy building up the courage to talk to a girl — with the help of a self-service checkout. Against the poster paint backdrop of Any Suburban Sainsburys, in a mere five minutes, the film takes you on a supermarket sweep of emotions that leave you genuinely rooting for the protagonist.
We meet Henry (Jamie Blackley) at the supermarket. Holding a basket of cheap vodka, meals for one and frozen pizza, Henry’s gloomy expression reveals that he’s a little bit sad, lonely and — presumably — malnourished. Existence is pain. However, the world momentarily sparkles when Henry sets eyes on checkout girl Nicky (Isabella Laughland), a ray of sunshine amidst the fluorescent light of the supermarket. But alas, he’s far too scared to talk to her.
Things take an Unexpected turn when a self-service checkout strikes up a conversation with Henry. Judging him for his poor choice of groceries, The Till (Olivia Colman) tells Henry he looks like “something between a student and desperately lonely”. Ouch. The film continues to follow Henry’s relationship with The Till, who puts aside her sharp tongue to ease him out of his Supernoodle-flavoured funk and talk to Nicky.
Unexpected Item’s cinematography perfectly captures the boring, lurid and bleak experience of a solitary trip to the supermarket. The store’s soullessly happy music and pointless announcements (“today marks 100 shopping days until Christmas”) are great touches. Andrew Ellis is hilarious as the inept, disinterested Sid. The use of a self-service checkout (both a blessing and a curse of modern life) is smart; the technology we regard as a barrier to ‘real’ socialising actually ends up bringing Henry back to life.
Jamie Blackley and Isabella Laughland’s chemistry make the film a delight to watch. Unexpected Item is real slice of sweetness — albeit a safe one. I was left slightly wanting at the end, expecting a witty one-liner to polish things off. However, both sharp and heartwarming, Unexpected Item is the perfect remedy to that doomy feeling you get when you spend too much time reading about how technology is irreversibly calcifying our social skills.