DIR/WRI: Nick Kelly • PRO: Kate McColgan • DOP: Tom Comerford • ED: Derek Holland • DES: Louise Mathews • MUS: John Gerard Walsh • CAST: Jacob McCarthy, Dermot Murphy, Aoibhinn McGinnity, Peter Coonan, Niamh Algar
The Drummer and the Keeper, written and directed by Nick Kelly, is a product of the IFB (Irish Film Board) ‘Catalyst’ scheme. Nick Kelly has an eclectic CV. He was once the leader singer in The Fat Lady Sings and he has a track record in award-winning short films dating back to 2003. In more recent years he directed the Irish Film Archive promo featuring Saoirse Ronan as well as the iconic Guinness commercial based on Tom Crean. On the evidence of such talent, one might ask why it has taken until now for him to nail down backing for a feature.
With The Drummer and the Keeper, he has not elected to play safe with his debut. Any film that takes on the issues of mental illness or Aspergers Syndrome involves risk. This film has the ambition to take on both issues in tandem. It might have been easier to make a film about a romantic relationship between two people with mental health issues. It is to the credit of Nick Kelly that he chose to eschew that approach.
The film is based on an unlikely friendship between Christopher, a teenage youth with Aspergers, and Gabriel, a drummer in a band in his mid-twenties who suffers from a mental illness. Having read the pitch, I felt the storyline might stretch credibility. I also feared the film might stray into cliché or that it might be deemed offensive.
I hoped not.
Gabriel, (played by Dermot Murphy), a talented drummer in a band, is struggling with addiction issues and trying to conceal his mental illness from his fellow band members. He attempts to mask his illness with a cocktail of drugs and alcohol, testing the patience of his fellow band members in the process.
Christopher (played by Jacob McCarthy), is a seventeen-year-old youth with Aspergers Syndrome who happens to be a very good goalie. He lives in an institution with occasional visits home to his family some of whom barely tolerate his presence. The dining table scenes make for difficult viewing.
One of the strengths of the film is that the characters of both of the leads are built up progressively and persuasively. While some of the supporting roles may be a little thinly sketched, the strength of the performance of the central characters carries the film.
Another strength is that Nick Kelly appears to have engaged in substantial research on mental illness and Aspergers Syndrome before embarking on the screenplay. This added depth to the plot and credibility to events along the way which might otherwise have appeared unlikely.
The initial meeting of Gabriel and Christopher on a football field is very funny indeed. This is not only because of the interaction between the two lead characters but also the performance of the referee, who we later discover is one of the carers in the institution where Christopher is residing. This film is not a comedy, but there are many richly comic moments. The humour was organic to the story and never appeared contrived.
There were some impressive performances among the supporting cast including Aoibhinn McGinnity as Gabriel’s sister and Peter Coonan as a reserved band member.
I wondered if someone with mental illness and addiction issues who is passionately committed to being a drummer in a band would have the capacity to sustain a friendship with a teenage youth who he doesn’t understand or accept initially. I grew to believe it to be possible in the course of the film – though I wasn’t sure the friendship would last. That challenge is at the heart of a film that packs a strong emotional punch.
There are other things to admire in this film. Credit to Maureen Hughes for the casting which is very well judged all round. As one might expect in a plot that involes Gabriel’s band, the soundtrack is an important element of the film. The music by John Gerard Walsh is very good indeed.
The Drummer and the Keeper heralds the arrival of a very impressive new talent. We are already looking forward to what Nick will do next.
Brian Ó Tiomáin
15A (See IFCO for details)
The Drummer and the Keeper is released 8th September 2017