DIR: Steph Green • WRI: Steph Green, Ailbhe Keogan • PRO: Tamara Anghie, Martina Niland • DOP: Kevin Richey • ED: Nathan Nugent • MUS: Sebastian Pille • DES: Stephen Daly • CAST: Maxine Peake, Will Forte, Edward McLiam, Sharon Horgan, Brendan Morris, Ruth McCabe
Run & Jump centres on the vivacious Vanetia Casey (Maxine Peake), whose happy-go-lucky personality conceals the heartache of holding her family together after her young husband, Conor (Edward McLiam), suffers a stroke. When American neuropsychologist Dr. Ted Fielding (Will Forte) travels to Ireland to study Conor’s rehabilitation and recovery, he finds himself irresistibly drawn into the Casey family, forging meaningful relationships with more than one of its members.
The film is beautifully photographed, and admirably side-steps most of the tourist-friendly outdoor money-shots in favour of interior, intimate storytelling. Director Steph Green introduces a number of visual and thematic motifs, not only linking the core cast of the film, but introducing a whole other dimension to the narrative. The greens and yellows traditionally associated with the film’s setting of Co. Kerry are warmly incorporated into its world, while cooler melancholy blues creep in to disrupt that warmth, for better and worse.
Ailbhe Keogan’s poignant script is a low-concept affair, which is nevertheless ambitious, exploring different attitudes and concepts of intimacy and how they are affected by numerous narrative events. In addition to the initial trauma of Conor’s stroke, which has dramatically altered his personality and behaviour, and the arrival of Dr. Fielding into the Casey household, the script also throws a number of other twists into the mix, including a suicide attempt, a sudden death, and local homophobic tension. Yet all of these potentially over-wrought issues are handled in an impressively subtle and contained manner within the film. With the exception of an eleventh-hour declaration of love, which feels both out of character and present out of necessity to fit the genre of the film, Run and Jump is, to its credit, more mellow drama than melodrama.
This well-balanced tone and sensitivity to the issues of Run and Jump can equally be attributed to the film’s remarkable cast. Vanetia is not only the glue that holds her family together, but also the emotional core of this film, and Maxine Peake fully succeeds in realising her near-relentless perkiness in the face of incomprehensible emotional challenges. Whether she’s dancing like nobody’s watching, feigning shock over recreational marijuana use, or cheerfully threatening property damage, Peake presents the audience with a heroine whose quirks are for the sake of self-preservation and survival rather than mere ‘adorkable’ idiosyncrasy. ‘I forgot you’re mourning a husband too,’ a newly-widowed character commiserates at a funeral, and so too had the audience: For all of the quick humour and warm energy on display from Vanetia, she is struggling throughout with the fact that the man she loved and married has become an entirely different person.
The rest of the cast is strong, too: Will Forte shares great chemistry with Peake and proves his convincingly earnest everyman from Nebraska was no fluke, with another standout dramatic performance as Ted Fielding; while Sharon Horgan reliably fills her few brief moments on-screen with humour, and Brendan Morris’ subtle underplaying of the Casey’s troubled son, Lenny, marks him as a bright new talent to watch. While Edward McLiam manages the challenging feat of playing Conor before (in flashbacks) and after the stroke quite well, the representation of this character is the only potentially weak link. In the effort to emphasise how much Conor has changed, his characterisation as withdrawn, obsessive-compulsive and abrasive is almost too negative compared to the flashbacks of the sweet, funny and caring man he was before. While this is, of course, the point – it highlights how difficult it is for Vanetia to cope with this man as her husband if the audience can’t even stick him as a secondary character— the film still takes a little too long to allow any humanity to creep back into Conor.
Run & Jump is an exceptionally well-handled drama about a difficult subject; Enjoyable, accessible and sensitive, without ever succumbing to false, mawkish sentimentality, with a few brisk laughs and an optimistic, heart-warming ending. Run, jump – don’t walk – to the nearest possible place you can see this film and dive into its colourful world.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Run & Jump is released on 2nd May 2014