Jack O’Dwyer puts pen to paper about the romantic comedy Writing Home, made as part of the Filmbase Masters Course
Writing Home, though ostensibly a romantic comedy, tells that classic story of an ego being slowly stripped away in order to reveal the triumph of authenticity over artifice. Conor Scott’s script, under the direction of three Filmbase Masters’ students (Nagham Abboud, Alekson L. Dall’Armellina and Miriam Velasco) and guided by producers Mark Coffey and Jannik Ohlendieck, follows a well-worn cinematic path, with its concerns being particularly comparable to Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces, from 1970. Its rigid adherence to the tenets of feel-good cinematic romance deserves both condemnation and praise for, while it is cliché-ridden and predictable, it is also funny, satisfying and undeniably impressive given the inexperience of its cast and crew.
At its centre is Tony Kelly, in a swaggering performance as Daniel Doran, a hack writer who leaves the high-life of London to return to his rural Irish home of Darlingford, where he encounters his dying father, begrudging family, the former flame he suddenly abandoned and a young daughter that he has never met. Kelly’s confident performance brings a real vibrancy and immediacy to the film. His plastic, animated facial expressions reveal a smarmy, posturing fraud who, deep down, is ashamed of what he has become. The opening fifteen minutes or so, set in London, does just about everything it can to make Daniel a deeply unlikeable figure. Among other things, he snorts coke off of the cover of his newest bestseller, forgets the name of a Russian model he sleeps with, and replies ‘’good’’ when he learns of his father’s illness over the phone.
Upon his return to Darlingford, each scene serves one of two purposes. The first is to contribute to Daniel’s journey of self-discovery and moral retribution through acts of selflessness and honesty. The second is to show Daniel up for his arrogance and condescension, often in humorous ways. A key aspect of Daniel’s character is that, despite his overbearing self-seriousness, he is established from the start as a figure who is often the butt of the joke. He uses his wealth and large vocabulary as a weapon of self-defence, which frequently backfires. Particularly satisfying is a scene in which he is cajoled into attending a local Darlingford book club meeting, where he comes face to face with the same sort of self-important drivel that he himself peddles.
The ways in which Daniel successively negotiates the ills of his past, and the ultimate character arc that forms as a result, play out lucidly on screen, for the most part. Perhaps the most problematic scene is a conversation between Aoife (Caoimhe O’Malley), Daniel’s former girlfriend and the mother of his child, and her mother. Daniel is the subject of the conversation in spite of his absence, and there is a revelation from Aoife’s mother which suggests that Daniel has always been benevolent and generous, even before his return to Darlingford. The reveal comes from nowhere, and in light of the film as a whole it seems to dull the emotional impact of Daniel’s ultimate moral progression. Also, numerous scenes, including the film’s opening, make reference to the fact that Daniel is in fact a talented writer of serious fiction who merely became disenfranchised following the failure of his first book. However, rarely in the film do we get a glimpse of this Daniel; the talented artist beneath the showman’s veneer. In fact, Daniel’s writing is a sort of grey area throughout the entire film. The fact that such a large aspect of his life and background remains so far removed from the presentation of his character reduces somewhat the overall cogency of the film.
Shot in just five weeks, Writing Home is a fantastic achievement from up-and-coming Irish talent under the tutelage of Filmbase’s intensive Master’s programme. There is little indication of its limited budget and even when there is, it does little to distract from the verve in front of and behind the camera. All the familiar beats are there, and some of the music-heavy montage sequences are a bit too sickly sweet, but with snappy dialogue, touching performances and confident direction, Writing Home remains engaging throughout its 90-minute runtime.
Writing Home screened on 15th November 2017 as part of the Cork Film Festival (10 – 19 November)