Billy has come back to his small English hometown after a stint as a war photographer. He has joined his family's newspaper staff, which is run by his brother Roman, who is trying to breathe new life into the small publication. But Billy feels like working on the village paper is beneath him, where the biggest story so far is a mysterious vegetable produce slasher.
But when the brothers decide to stake out a garden to catch the courgette slasher in action in hopes of landing a big story, Billy confronts the damage of his past and has a chance to reconnect with Roman.
Written and directed by Max McCabe, this amiable short comedy is a riff on the great tradition of small-town stories lived with cheekily outsized stakes and emotion. Elements of the whodunit and an affectionately satirical portrait of English village life make up part of the storytelling mix, but the real heart of the story comes from the relationship with the two brothers, whose opposing experiences and desires become reconciled through misadventure.
The comedy comes from the paradox of taking something small seriously, and in this particular village, it's a "courgette slasher." (That's zucchini to those more familiar with American English.) Someone is getting revenge for a town council battle by slashing the garden produce of those who voted a particular way on a recent resolution, and the village paper is hot on the trail.
The writing has a lot of fun with sprinkling the details of village life through the witty dialogue, but it's delivered with such wryness and quicksilver pacing that it's never over the top or too screwball. The rhythm and tenor of the film remain similarly low-key, which brings the characters to the fore. Former war photographer Billy is charged with taking dramatic photos for social media and publication, and he's brought low by the task.
His past work has also given him PTSD, and he's also depressed, which the film handles with equanimity. Actor Dylan Edwards plays Billy's mental health struggles with straightforward precision and an understatement that allows his travails to sit seamlessly within the comic milieu. It allows for a moment for the brothers to bond and opens up a much-needed conversation between them that brings them closer. And when the courgette slasher shows up, they can finally work together as a unit to bring him down.
"Hometown Hero" has a sincere message about men and mental health, but it's gently folded into a delightful British comedy that ripples with ironic wit, affectionate satire and just a touch of mordant humor. It offers not just an entertaining story, but a small, comforting slice of the world where the biggest news event is a series of smashed squashes. But the film is also aware of the collateral damage of a larger, more complex world, and it offers a sweetly hopeful portrait of a community and relationship where there's openness and kindness to help healing, along with a dose of laughter.