DIR: Paul Fraser • WRI: Will Collins • PRO: Rebecca O’Flanagan, Robert Walpole • DOP: P.J. Dillon • ED: Emer Reynolds • DES: Mark Geraghty • CAST: Timmy Creed, Paul Courtney, Kate Ashfield, Sarah Greene
My Brothers is the directorial debut feature of established screenwriter Paul Fraser, best known for his collaborations with Shane Meadows. Set in Cork around Halloween 1987, the film focuses on Noel (Timothy Creed), a seventeen year-old whose father (Don Wycherley) is dying from a disease that has left him bedbound and confused. Alongside domestic concerns, Noel has school and a part time delivery job with a bakery to worry about, and he’s becoming increasingly unsatisfied with his lot in life. One day, he borrows his father’s beloved Casio watch, which is soon destroyed in an unfortunate incident involving the school bully and a hurley. Desperate, Noel decides to embark on an epic but secretive trip to Ballybunion (where the watch was initially won in a seaside crane game) in a ‘borrowed’ bread truck to replace his father’s prized possession. Necessity dictates that he brings his two younger brothers Paudie (Paul Courtney) and Scwally (T.J. Griffin) along for the ride, and that inevitably brings complications…
Comparisons are unavoidable: although scripted by first-time writer Will Collins, My Brothers shares many similarities with the filmography of Fraser’s better-known collaborator. A modern period setting. The naturalistic, unpretentious delivery. Social realist leanings and a deep affection for working class families. Youngsters dealing with situations well outside their maturity range. While much of this hits the mark, My Brothers lacks the unique perspective that has allowed the best of Meadows’ films to stand out from the crowd.
The road trip movie at My Brothers’ core is mildly diverting, but rarely feels vital or particularly original. The interactions between the three brothers are handled with care and affection, but they’re neither funny nor dramatic enough to truly leap off the screen. The performances are good – Courtney particularly achieves a lot with a role that could easily have drifted towards stereotyping – but the characters feel somewhat underwritten. Noel particularly comes across as inconsistently realised (although one could argue that’s appropriate for a directionless seventeen year-old), while some of the minor characters are massively underused over the very lean running time. The plot itself is contrived, with few of the complications experienced by the siblings proving particularly surprising or insightful. The road trip structure has regularly been the foundation for great cinema, yet My Brothers struggles to match the humour or pathos of the best the ‘genre’ has to offer.
There are things to like, though. P.J. Dillon – the current star of Irish cinematography – does a great job with sometimes aesthetically limited locations, especially during a very impressive sequence involving sparklers. There’s a very, shall we say, ‘memorable’ performance from Charlie Casanova director Terry McMahon, whose brief appearance provides a genuine sense of threat and darkness. While there are few surprises in the delivery, the final act provides some satisfying character moments and catharsis.
My Brothers isn’t a bad film, but there’s a lack of ambition and character that undermines its moderate successes. Even the 1987 setting suffers through a series of careless anachronisms – it’s unreasonable to expect perfect period detail in a film of this low budget, but obvious cameo appearances from modern Tayto and contemporary arcade games are distracting. My Brothers is accessible and mostly harmless, that’s for sure, and could very well resonate with a wider audience. Indeed, Fraser’s modest ambitions and simple, unshowy delivery may be seen as positives by many viewers. But this one struggles to recommend it as anything other than merely decent.
Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
My Brothers is released on 17th August 2012