DIR/WRI: Mark Noonan • PRO: Conor Barry, John Keville, Benoit Roland • DOP: Tom Comerford • ED: Colin Campbell • DES: Neill Treacy • MUS: David Geraghty • CAST: Aidan Gillen, Lauren Kinsella, Jesse Morris
Aidan Gillen stars as Will, a man released from prison to look after his young niece Stacey (Lauren Kinsella) after the death of her mother, Will’s sister. Escaping Dublin to a sleepy rural town, Will and Stacey attempt to foster a relationship and start afresh. However, they’re plagued by setbacks. Will struggles to find a job, Stacey’s more modern attitudes don’t mesh with Will’s old-fashioned nature and recently Stacey has developed narcolepsy in the wake of her mother’s death which ends up stopping her from being able to attend school. However, the duo befriend a neighbour Emilie (Sainte) who agrees to tutor Stacey while they work out the school issues. And so begins a quiet, subtle exploration of their attempt to build a family out of this less-than-ideal situation.
This is a decidedly mixed film. On balance it probably largely falls on the ‘good’ side of the line but how good kind of depends on who you view the protagonist as being. Initially, it seems like Will is the main player but Stacey gets just about as much screen time and development. Now this is obviously not a complaint but (for this viewer at least) it feels like the film pulls in two contradictory directions depending on who you feel you should be rooting for. Will seems to represent an outdated, idealised stereotype of Ireland. He’s a bit of a ‘rogue’, a real ‘character’, he endlessly spouts dad jokes and eye-rolling platitudes, which he clearly believes represent real wisdom. He seems constantly surprised and a little affronted by Stacey’s independence and generally more ‘modern’ views. This even extends into the narrative as, if you choose to look at it from a certain angle, the story can be summed as; old-fashioned, chivalrous man’s-man saves foreign beauty (Emilie) who falls for him. Now, ultimately the story proves to not be so clear cut but that element never really leaves and at no point do you feel like the film is necessarily against Will’s old fashioned expectations of the world. Indeed, a late reveal of why he was in prison in the first place only reinforces it.
This is all in contrast to Stacey, who it must said, is absolutely the best thing about the film. Kinsella’s performance is flawless. A subtle, quiet but strong and frequently humourous presence who absolutely carries the film. And as a character Stacey feels far more in line with ‘modern’ Ireland but again, it’s unclear if the film is trying to say that she should learn from Will or vice-versa. I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s intentionally neither of those and the film is merely presenting both sides without comment and leaving it ambiguous. This kind of detached ambiguity is often a persistent issue with a lot of modern Irish cinema, here though it almost works even if ultimately it means that neither character grows particularly much from their experiences. At any rate it feels more believable and truthful than if this had become a droopy bag of shmaltz and clichés.
Otherwise, in terms of the Good; Tom Comerford’s cinematography is crisp and at times striking, managing that most difficult of tricks by making rural Ireland look neither like a picturesque tourist board commercial or a bleak, desolate wasteland. The supporting cast is strong and the dialogue can be very funny (Stacey’s at any rate) and while the score is sparse, what little of it there is is inoffensive even though it sounds like the music from an Apple product’s ad.
On to the Bad however…
Now, despite recent evidence (read: almost everything since The Wire), I’m still not willing outright to call Gillen a bad actor but he is not good here. As an actor he has a tendency of acting with a capital ‘A’. He doesn’t so much vanish into a role as wear it like a very overt costume. You can see him straining below his own veneer to show how good he is at being, in this case, a working-class Dub just out of prison. It really is quite bemusing to watch scenes of him and Kinsella having conversations, their polar opposite acting styles clashing as much as characters do. This brings us onto the other major issues, the dialogue. Now, while it can be good (as I said earlier, mainly Stacey’s) there is a clear attempt here at naturalism that quite often overshoots. Sometimes this ends up being a bit incongruous (Stacey nonchalantly asking ‘So what’s the story with you being a drug addict?’) but other times enters truly cringe-y, flatout bad territory. The attempt at stark realism despite the presence of slightly generic elements further reinforcing the weird non-tone the film seems to be going for. The problem, really, can be summed up in a single, almost dialogue-free scene of Will going to a local young-people’s party where he tries to sell them drugs and have a good time. It is a deeply weird scene, awkward to watch, serves no real point and is mercifully short. It’s difficult to articulate exactly why it feels so off but in motion it embodies all the film’s negatives.
This is by no means a bad film and there is definitely enough good to keep your interest. Lauren Kinsella can join the growing list of young Irish actors that show real promise and the unusual enough dynamic between the leads means that it’s never boring. But the missteps with both the writing and Gillen really are hard to ignore and lead to a very uneven experience on the whole.
15A (See IFCO for details)
You’re Ugly Too is released 24th July 2015