DIR/WRI: Gerard Walsh • PRO: Matthew Toman • CAST: Darragh O’Toole, Emily Lamey, Joe Rooney, Andie McCaffrey Byrne
The latest in a seemingly new-wave of uplifting Irish cinema, Gerard Walsh’s sophomore effort, South, stars newcomer Darragh O’Toole (Red Rock) as seventeen-year-old Tom, an aspiring musician suffering from stage fright. Following the death of his supportive single father, the protagonist decides to journey from his home county of Galway to Dublin to track down his estranged mother. On the way, he meets Jess (Emily Lamey), a free-spirited girl with whom he forms a bond.
Winner at the Fingal Film Festival for Best Feature, South is an amiable coming-of-age drama that captures warmly the awkwardness of youth, e.g. trying desperately to get served in off-licences to impress the opposite sex, getting into conversations with odd people by accident and not knowing how to excuse oneself. The relationship that develops between Tom and Jess is delicately played by O’Toole and Lamey, particularly in regards to the latter whose performance never becomes a “manic pixie dream girl” cliché. Although the way the central characters meet does not feel authentic, their interactions and how they act around each other does.
That said, at the premiere, producer Matthew Toman spoke about how Walsh showed up to him with South’s script and just a few months later, they were shooting the movie. Another few drafts of the screenplay could have benefitted proceedings as the dialogue within the film is not as punchy or as witty as it could be. For example, Tom narrates the entire movie rather unnecessarily, which wouldn’t be as big of a problem if the lines he was delivering were comedic. However, although one can see the humour in what Tom is saying, there are moments where the jokes fall a little flat. Too often the film settles for a pattern where something odd will happen to the protagonist, to which he will tell the audience “that was weird” and then repeat.
Yet, although Walsh’s screenplay is nothing to write home about, his direction is very solid, capturing a similar vibe to Darren Thornton’s work earlier in the year on A Date for Mad Mary. There is a scene in South where Tom and Jess have an intimate exchange against a sea backdrop which looks genuinely beautiful, with the central couple illuminated in a golden hue. Also, the film’s acoustic guitar driven soundtrack is very good, as it should be given how important music is to Tom’s story.
Overall, South is an enjoyable entry in both the road-trip and the coming-of-age sub-genre. At 78 minutes, it flies by and just as one thinks it’s running out of steam, Andie McCaffrey Byrne (Savage, Love/Hate) arrives to add some much-needed emotional heft as Tom’s mother.
15A (See IFCO for details)
South is released 18th November 2016