Review: ‘Kat and the Band,’ starring Ella Hunt and Dougie Poynter

August 12, 2020

by Carla Hay

Dougie Poynter and Ella Hunt in “Kat and the Band” (Photo courtesy of Andrew Ogilvy Photography/101 Films)

“Kat and the Band”

Directed by E. E. Hegarty

Culture Representation: Taking place in primarily in London and partly in Chesham, England, the comedy film “Kat and the Band” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A female student, who’s in her last year of high school, fulfills her dream of managing a rock band, but she lies about her age and lack of experience in order to convince a local band that she should be the band’s manager.

Culture Audience: “Kat and the Band” will appeal mostly to people who like teen-oriented comedies that are mostly formulaic but also has some less-predictable elements.

Ella Hunt and Dougie Poynter in “Kat and the Band” (Photo courtesy of Andrew Ogilvy/101 Films)

Whenever there’s a “coming of age” movie about a rock fan who wants to work behind the scenes in the music industry, the protagonist is usually male. Therefore, it’s refreshing that “Kat in the Band” is from the point of view of a female protagonist: Kat Malone (played by in a charming performance by Ella Hunt), a restless London teenager who loves rock music and whose main goal in life is to become a manager of a talented and successful rock band.

Fortunately, “Kat and the Band” (directed by E.E. Hegarty and written by Jemma Field and Michael Müller) gets many aspects correct when it comes to teenage angst. But since the movie is a comedy, there are some absurdist and fairly unrealistic elements of the movie too, especially when it comes to the inner workings of the music industry. If viewers are willing to suspend their disbelief during some of these far-fetched moments and appreciate the fairly good acting of the cast, then “Kat and the Band” can be a lightweight and entertaining jaunt into London’s youth culture and pop/rock music scene.

Kat is in the last year of her high school, which is an all-girls private school where the students are required to wear uniforms. It’s not stated but it’s implied that Kate is 18, which is the legal age to drink alcohol in the United Kingdom. Kat has made it clear to everyone around her that she’s not at all interested in going to college. She lives in a comfortably upper-middle-class home with her ambitious single mother Liz (played by Katherine Kelly) and Liz’s ex-hippie mother, whose first name isn’t mentioned in the movie, but Kat calls her grandmother Gran (played by Joanna David). Kat’s father is not seen or mentioned in the movie.

Liz comes from a working-class background, and she likes to remind Kat that she had to work hard for everything that they have, because Liz wasn’t expected to amount to much when she was growing up. As a result of her ambition, Liz is a workaholic who often goes on business trips. The industry where Liz works is not stated in the movie. Liz’s frequent absence from home gives Kat more freedom to do what she wants, but it’s also caused some resentment from Kat, who wants her mother’s attention and approval more than Kat would like to admit.

Liz often gives criticism to Kat about being too lazy and ungrateful about her privileged life. Liz also expects Kat to go to university, but Kat is dead-sent against that idea. Therefore, Liz and Kat clash over the decision about whether Kat should get a college education or start her life ambition of being in the music business as an artist manager.

Kat’s relationship with her mother is rocky, but she’s much closer to Gran, who likes to do yoga exercises and gives Kat advice such as: “Don’t let other people’s reality dictate yours. In Kat’s dictionary of life, it’s only you who can write the definition.” It comes as no surprise that Gran encourages Kat to pursue her dream of being an artist manager in the music industry.

The haphazard and desperate way that Kat goes about fulfilling that goal is shown in the beginning of the movie, when Kat and her best friend Jane (played by Jennifer Leong) go to a nightclub and saunter past people waiting in line and go right up to the doorman to tell him that they are on the guest list. Kat introduces herself as Kat Malone from Power Chords Music Management.

Kat and Jane aren’t on the list, of course. And when the doorman tells them that, Kat pretends that Jane is her assistant who has screwed up by not calling ahead to be put on the guest list. Kat then yells at Jane and threatens to “fire” her. It’s all for show to manipulate the doorman to take pity on Jane.

And the tactic works. As Kat and Jane start to walk away, the doorman calls them back and says that Kat’s name is actually on the list. As they walk in the nightclub, the doorman whispers to Jane that she should find another job. Once inside the club, Kat goes right to her plan to try to convince the band that’s playing that she should be the band’s manager.

That band is a trio called Dollar Days. They don’t have a record deal, but they have enough of a fan base in the London area to get gigs at local nightclubs. The band is led by bass player Alex (played by Dougie Poynter), who’s also the band’s manager and the obvious heartthrob in the group. In real life, Poynter is best known as the bass player for pop/rock band McFly, so he doesn’t have to do much acting when he’s on stage in this movie.

The Dollar Days lineup is rounded out by lead singer/guitarist Brian (played by Callum McGowan) and new drummer Sid (played by Idris Debrand), who is recruited later in the story when the band’s drummer quits and Dollar Days need a replacement drummer on short notice. Kat doesn’t make a good impression the first time that she meets Alex at the nightclub. He tells her that the band doesn’t need a manager because he’s the one who’s managing the band.

The first time that she meets Alex, Kat gushes over the band’s songs to Alex and says, “You have a sound that’s so raw.” But she also has some constructive criticism for the band. She tells Alex, “You’re playing the wrong places. Your bass is too dominant. Your social media is social suicide. And your set list? Confused.”

Kat also makes a bad impression because she buys a drink for herself at the club and tells the bartender to charge it to Dollar Days. Alex finds out, of course, and he takes the drink from her before he leaves. There’s another band playing after Dollar Days that Kat doesn’t respect because she thinks it’s a cookie-cutter “pretty boy” band with boring songs. The lead singer of that band is named Marcus (played by Jackson Bews), who is the band’s heartthrob because he supposedly has amazing abs, but he’s never seen shirtless in the movie.

Even though Alex rejected Kat’s request to be Dollar Days’ manager, she doesn’t give up so easily. At the end of the night, when the nightclub is closing, Kat and Jane see Marcus leaning against the wall and smoking a cigarette. Kat is sure that the bands are going to have an after-party, so she goes up to Marcus and lies to him by saying that Jane is interested in Marcus but is too shy to approach him first.

Marcus looks over at Jane, who’s standing far enough away that she can’t hear the conversation, and he tells Kat that he thinks Jane is cute. In some problematic and icky dialogue, Kat then tells Marcus that Jane is likely to relax after a few drinks if Jane and Kat both get invited to the after-party. It’s really Kat’s way of saying, “If you get my friend drunk or tipsy at this party, she might be more sexually willing to do what you want.”

It’s all kinds of wrong that Kat would be willing to sell out her friend in what could turn into a possible sexual assault. But is it realistic and have people done this before? Absolutely. This scene also demonstrates how impulsive and reckless teenagers can be when it comes to not thinking ahead about the “worst case scenario” consequences that can happen when people get intoxicated at a party. And it’s also a scene that demonstrates how desperate Kat is to be in the music industry.

It’s clear that Kat doesn’t have any malicious intent toward her friend Jane. But it’s also clear that Kat is only thinking of herself and what she wants at that moment, including being willing to use her friend as sexual bait to be invited to a party. The musicians in this movie all look like they’re supposed to be in their 20s. And even though Jane is presumably the same age as Kat (they’re both in their last year of high school, so they’re probably 18), and the age of consent in the United Kingdom is 16, there’s something very off-putting about this scene. The movie has a few other problematic moments, but this is the worst.

Luckily, things work out at the party because Kat convinces Alex to take her phone number, while Jane and Marcus have a mutual attraction to each other. Whatever happens between Jane and Marcus is consensual, and they end up dating each other. The irony is that Kat, who “set them up” in the first place, disapproves of the relationship because she thinks Marcus is shallow and vain.

Kat doesn’t convince Dollar Days right away to hire her as their manager. But the turning point comes when their drummer quits and Kat ends up recommending Sid to be the band’s new drummer. Sid is so talented and fits in so well with the band that Alex and Brian decide to give Kat a chance and let her manage the band.

Kat pretends to be older and more experienced than she really is, and the band doesn’t bother to do a background check on her. This is one of those story ideas that would have worked better if it took place in an era before social media or the Internet existed. Viewers will just have to accept that Dollar Days is not a business-savvy band because of how easily they believe everything that Kat says. There’s also no talk of lawyers or business contracts.

As one can imagine, Kat’s first foray into band management comes with a lot of mishaps and embarrassing mistakes. She gets Dollars Days a pretty good nightclub booking that she promotes with a lot of flyers at her school. On the evening of the gig, it looks like the show is going to be sold out, because most of the people waiting in line are teenage girls from the school.

But then, Kat and the band find out that the club’s admission policy is only for people ages 21 and over. The club owner/manager gets nervous about having all these teenagers outside the club, so he cancels the show. Kat’s booking and promotion of the show is the type of dumb mistake that makes Dollar Days question Kat’s competence. And it won’t be the last thing she does that will make the band want to fire her.

Kat is trying to juggle her responsibilities of managing the band with her academic responsibilities. She’s barely getting passing grades and has gotten enough warnings where she’s only a few steps away from getting suspended. A concerned teacher named Mr. Cato (played by Rufus Hound) tells Kat that she’s smart, but she doesn’t have enough focus.

And since part of this movie is set in a high school, there are the predictable “mean girl” characters. In this movie, they are Tanya (played by Anna Devlin) and Rose (played by Olivia Maiden), who are snooty best friends who sneer at Kat and Jane because of petty things such as the fact that Kat and Jane wear scruffy Dr. Marten boots to school instead of fancy designer shoes.

Jane is more concerned than Kat about “fitting in” and getting the approval of snobs like Tanya and Rose. Kat, who can be very immature and make less-than-smart decisions, is smart enough to know that high-school cliques don’t matter in the real world. However, Kat’s eagerness to get out into the real world as a working person doesn’t sit well with her mother Liz, who wants Kat to go to college. In a very realistic argument scene in the movie, Kat accuses her mother of wanting Kat to go to college so Liz can brag about it to her friends and co-workers instead of caring about whether or not a college education is what Kat really wants.

Of course, Kat can’t be a successful manager without people willing to take a chance on her and the band. Kat and Jane hang out at a café called Casablanca Cave, whose good-natured owner/manager Faz (played Sevan Stephan) plays a pretty big role in being able to help Kat and Dollar Days. Faz also has a cousin named Herbie (played by David Ahmad) who also becomes a fan of the band and offers to help.

“Kat and the Band” has some very predictable moments, some of which are written better than others. But one predictable route that the movie did not take is having Kat “fall in love” with anyone in the band. Usually, in movies like this, the would-be couple will try to have a platonic relationship as long as possible, they have a big argument over a misunderstanding or betrayal, they reconcile when they admit they’re in love with each other and want to be together, and then everyone lives happily ever after.

Alex is the obvious potential love interest for Kat, since they both find each other attractive. But in this #MeToo era, it was wise for the movie not to have the blurred lines that happen when people who work together become romantically involved with each other. Even though she’s young and inexperienced as a manager, Kat also seems to know that it would hurt her credibility as a manager if she started dating one of her clients.

The movie also does a good job at showing how the roles of women can be viewed differently by different generations. After Kat starts managing Dollar Days, Gran asks Kat if she’s sleeping with anyone in the band yet. “Free love is a wonderful thing,” Gran comments to Kat, who cringes in response. Kat says that she’s not interested in the band for sexual reasons. Maybe it would’ve been no big deal for women in the hippie era of the 1960s and 1970s to have “free love” with people they worked with, but the consequences are much riskier now in the #MeToo era.

In an effort to infuse the movie with some more realism, the original music performed by Dollar Days is music by real-life rock band Some Velvet Morning. The songs are good (not great), and they serve their purpose in this movie. Indie pop singer/songwriter Badly Drawn Boy also makes a cameo as himself.

The appeal of “Kat and the Band” relies mostly on Hunt’s charismatic performance. She was also a standout as a star of the 2018 underrated horror-comedy musical “Anna and the Apocalypse.” She doesn’t sing or dance in “Kat and the Band,” but she still lights up the screen with vivacious energy that makes her performance very entertaining to watch. Kat is written and acted as a realistic teenager, with all the flaws and foibles that come with someone who’s still trying to find her identity while she’s in a rush to be taken seriously as an adult.

As the movie’s male leading actor, Poynter does a solid performance as Alex, who comes across as a decent guy, defying the stereotype that rock musicians can be sleazy, sex-crazed drug abusers. Brian is a fairly generic lead singer, while drummer Sid is just happy to be in a band that gets paid to perform. The parental/authority figures come and go in the movie as plot devices to either encourage or discourage Kat in her quest to become an artist manager.

Dollar Days is a band that is struggling to “make it,” so at this point in their career, it makes sense that they’re all pretty humble and could be easily persuaded to have someone like Kat manage them. The movie’s story takes place over the course of a few months, so the story arc can only go so far with what happens to Dollar Days and Kat. It would be interesting to see a realistic movie about a female manager of a rock band that’s become rich and famous. That’s the kind of story that’s rarely told, either as a narrative feature film or a documentary.

As it stands, “Kat and the Band” (which is Hegarty’s feature-film debut as a director) is a comedy about a teenager, and so teens and pre-teens are the target audience for this movie. For that reason, “Kat and the Band” is somewhat sugarcoated and leaves out a lot of realistic scenarios. (There’s no sex in the movie, and Kat doesn’t experience any sexual harassment or gender discrimination in the music industry.) But for people who want a genial story about a plucky young woman following her dreams, “Kat and the Band” will meet those expectations.

101 Films released “Kat and the Band” on digital and VOD in the U.S. on August 11, 2020. The movie’s U.K. release date on digital and VOD was July 13, 2020.