Madness

Take It or Leave It

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Take It or Leave It is not a music video collection, but a narrative film about the early history of Madness with the band members playing themselves. The film details their transformation from a motley bunch of cockney teens muddling through mediocre renditions of old rock & roll tunes like "See You Later Alligator," into one of the most successful pop bands in the U.K. One might expect a Madness movie to exhibit the nutty sense of humor that characterizes their music and videos, but this is not a nutty movie; it's not even funny, really. The band seems to take both itself and the project very seriously, focusing primarily on historical accuracy. The movie makes no attempt to glamorize their origins, including several scenes of bandmembers getting fired from lousy jobs for tardiness and irresponsibility. In one scene, guitarist Chris Foreman is denounced as a "lazy layabout boy" by a factory boss. Later, saxophonist Lee Thompson is pictured stealing records and musical instruments. The group's founder, pianist Mike Barson, is portrayed as a disciplined and talented but foul-tempered leader sparring endlessly with his bandmates and threatening to fire almost all of them at various points throughout. It is not until the last quarter of the movie, as the band begins to develop an avid North London following, that anyone is seen having any fun. Take It or Leave It is undoubtedly of significant interest to Madness fans, but probably not to the general movie-going public. Its chief virtue as a film lies in the remarkably natural performances of its seven stars. The credits cite Madness, Philip McDonald, and Dave Robinson as writers, but most of the dialogue seems improvised. There are some interesting choices made in the cinematography -- including the decision to shoot the first several scenes in black and white -- but the primary achievement is its success at capturing the nutty boys in their natural environment.