Review: Night School

DIR: Malcolm D. Lee • WRI: Kevin Hart, Harry Ratchford, Joey Wells, Matthew Kellard, Nicholas Stoller, John Hamburg • DOP: Greg Gardiner • ED: Paul Millspaugh • DES: Keith Brian Burns • PRO: Kevin Hart MUS: David Newman • CAST: Tiffany Haddish, Kevin Hart, Taran Killam

 

“What’s happening?”

“Pubes and racism”

This dialogue, prompted by an uncomfortable and farcical exchange at a fancy restaurant, captures the essence of Night School in a nutshell. It is a film made up of silly scenarios patched together to tell the story of Teddy Walker, top salesperson at BBQ City and boyfriend to financially independent and high-flyer, Lisa. Teddy must attend night school, where he encounters an ensemble of misfit adult-classmates, a no-nonsense teacher and a school principal with whom he has a troubled history, to pass the GED exams he failed to sit as a teenager. The narrative unfolds with a light, but deliberate eye on racist behaviour and prejudices.

Malcolm D. Lee’s follow up to Girls Trip begins in Atlanta, 2001, as a teenage Teddy defiantly refuses to take his exams in an apparent act of nonconformity. Fast-forward to the present day and Teddy’s inability to obtain any qualifications has not hindered his success or happiness. That is until, following a series of misfortunes, he finds himself unemployed and thus, jeopardising his future with his girlfriend Lisa. Unbeknownst to her, he enrols in a night school so that he can pass his GED and qualify for a new job that will allow him to live the life of abundance that he has been masquerading to her.

It becomes apparent early on that the narrative relies upon Teddy misinterpreting the nature of his own relationship with Lisa as he feels incapable of sustaining it without playing the role of provider. He demonstrates elements of fragile masculinity as he attempts to hold on to an outdated understanding of gender roles. This compromises the credibility of the relationship, a crucial component for the film’s narrative to function. Additionally, the relationship loses prominence in the film’s narrative, coming secondary to Teddy’s experiences at night school, therefore rendering his reason for enrolling in it virtually immaterial. The narrative is taken over by episodic sequences which are largely played out for their own sake as opposed to contributing to the narrative.

Carrie, Teddy’s tough-love teacher, plays well in contrast with the protagonist. She is introduced as a potential sparring partner for Teddy as they first encounter each another side-by-side at traffic lights. Carrie’s willingness to take him into her class after their initial encounter is an incompatible act when compared with her character’s previous behaviour. There is a lack of consistency in this character as her point-of-view seems to fluctuate throughout the film. However, she provides a much-needed grounding in the midst of the off-the-wall night-school students and her investment in Teddy’s learning potential is vital for the narrative to advance, in spite of it seeming unlikely.

In a film that strives on a series of wholesome hijinks, Teddy’s attitude and actions makes it challenging to be on his side. Perhaps being sandwiched between two strong, female characters makes it difficult to root for Teddy as the film’s protagonist which, all-in-all, is a positive complaint to have.

Overall, Night School is full to the brim of gags and goofy antics but a lack of empathy for the characters whose motivations are inconsistent and sometimes flawed means that the comedy is not always effective.

Siomha McQuinn

111 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Night School is released 28th September 2018
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Irish Film Review: A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot

 

DIR/WRI:Sinéad O’Shea 

A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot: a title at once provocative and perverse. If audience members remain in any way confused about what they are about to see, the violence and incongruity suggested in the title is quickly confirmed by the film’s opening sequence. A baby-faced preteen, Kevin Barry O’Donnell, explains to the documentary crew how various weapons can be utilised to maim and murder, plunging viewers headfirst into post-peace-process Derry, home of a community in which paramilitary forces take the law into their own hands and, in which giving young people a ‘fright’, is considered a reasonable way to encourage appropriate behaviour.

The film addresses its title head on with the aid of interviewee, Majella O’Donnell. It is with sadness and resignation that she recalls her son Philly O’Donnell being shot in the legs as a punishment for his involvement with drugs. The physical wounds have healed but the psychological effects of living in their community have had debilitating effects on Philly. Majella believes her decision to bring her son to be shot was a way of protecting her son from further harm but as his mental state deteriorates and his situation worsens she is confronted by the implications of her actions.

Writer-director Sinéad O’Shea began her investigation into punishment shootings, and their long-term effects, as part of a short-term project which became a 5-year-long documentary shoot. In the film, O’Shea develops a tumultuous relationship with the O’Donnell family: at certain times she has intimate access to the family, while at others she is denied all contact with them. Upon re-entering the O’Donnell home after a particularly long period of silence, Majella remarks that the film crew is back to ‘torture’ the family again, which seems significant considering the substantial physical and psychological grievances that the family have suffered at the hands of their community.

O’Shea contextualises the plight of the O’Donnell family within the broader framework of the peace process and the Troubles. She highlights the strong connection between suicide and young people left behind after the violence and mayhem of the Troubles. Towards the end of the film, Kevin Barry, an older version of the young weapon expert who opens it, claims to regret that the Troubles are over. The situation is multi-layered and complicated but at the film’s centre is a portrait of a family with limited options and a community that is in crisis.

A Mother Brings her Son to Be Shot is compelling, challenging and at times chilling. It dives deep into the often disturbing realities that are commonplace in Derry in the aftermath of the peace process. The Troubles may be over but this film asks its audience to re-examine what this means for those who live in its wake.

 

Siomha McQuinn

86 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
A Mother Brings her Son to Be Shot is released 14th September 2018

 

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Irish Film Review: The Image You Missed

DIR/PRO/ED: Donal Foreman • CAST: Arthur MacCaig

The Image You Missed, Donal Foreman’s latest offering following the success of his debut feature Out of Here, is a deeply personal exploration of documentarist Arthur MacCaig, Foreman’s deceased father. Reminiscent of Sarah Polley’s Stories We TellThe Image You Missed is the poetic and poignant product of Foreman’s effort to reconstruct a version of his father, a man he only met on a handful of occasions. While enriching his understanding of the man, Foreman searches for a reflection of himself among the footage and photographs found in MacCaig’s apartment. What emerges is more complicated.

Foreman finds numerous potential connections between himself and his father. They shared time, space and a passion for filmmaking. However, these connections do not fully align. In 1997, as Foreman made his first film, MacCaig made his last. MacCaig emigrated from the United States to Ireland whereas Foreman made the reverse journey. While MacCaig discredits the prioritisation of form over content in film, Foreman demonstrates a respect for form, evident from the temporal indicators throughout The Image You Missed and the division of the film into clear sections by way of the words of Seamus Heaney. Foreman even puts his own directorial stamp on his father’s footage through the stylistic use of sound and editing. All of these differences are visualised in the shot of a train, taken by Foreman, which performs the reverse shot of one of MacCaig’s own shots. They are two filmmakers who look at the world from different directions.

The personal intermingles with the political as The Image You Missed forefronts MacCaig’s intimate observation of balaclava-sporting IRA members during the Troubles. Foreman juxtaposes images of violence with footage of home movies he made as a child. His childhood filmmaking exudes escapism as opposed to the expository style of MacCaig’s filmmaking. In addition to being about his relationship with his father, Foreman’s film acts as a window into the conflict in the North during the Troubles.

The Image You Missed is engaging and evocative in both form and content. MacCaig’s footage is given new life and perspective under Foreman’s creative influence and his own footage provides a powerful contrast, as a personal archive of youthful experimentation and also as the profound reflections of a seasoned filmmaker. It is a film full of vulnerability and bravery that showcases questions of identity. Foreman investigates his father through the very medium with which MacCaig justified his absence. Despite their differences in approach, filmmaking is the clear unifier between them. One might ask themselves, is film thicker than blood?

Síomha McQuinn

12A (See IFCO for details)

91 minutes
The Image You Missed is released 10th August 2018

 

 

This review was originally published as part of Film Ireland’s Review of Irish Film

 

 

Audio Interview: Donal Foreman, writer/director of ‘Out of Here’

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Irish Film Review: Making the Grade

 

DIR/WRI: Ken Wardrop • PRO: Andrew Freedman   ED: John O’ Connor

 

Making the Grade is a stylistically-striking and impeccably-shot documentary from Ken Wardrop. It hones in on the relationships that develop between teachers and their students when sharing the necessary skills to play the piano. The students depicted, who are of all ages, are at various stages of their musical journey. Many of them mark their progress by participating in exams. This system of progression structures not only their learning, but the unfolding of the film itself which is divided up into sections, concentrating on different students who are preparing for each grade respectively. Spectators are invited to peek into the sacred space of trust and endurance which defines a piano lesson.

The piano may hold a different signification for every student but they each have something, or perhaps more accurately someone, to help them with this often challenging endeavour. Viewers realise quickly that Making the Grade is not just about learning how to play an instrument but about the bonds that are formed in so doing. Along with skills, teachers have the power to pass on a passion and attitude towards playing the piano. For some teachers their demeanour presents teaching as an artistic vocation while others come across as more traditional in their approach. The purest delights that this film has to offer are found in the dynamics that emerge between the various piano enthusiasts. Heart-warming and frequently humorous moments are the product of these interactions.

Domestic spaces and classroom interiors dominate the visuals of Making the Grade. This firmly establishes a consistent aesthetic in a film which is shot in different locations all around Ireland. Each shot is perfectly framed and static, contrasting with the flow of the music and the occasional dud note.

Although it maintains a cheerful atmosphere throughout, the film does not sugar-coat the difficulties inherent in learning an instrument. Along with warmth and praise from the teachers, the audience witness every missed note which encourages their solidarity with the students. The footage of the lessons is both complemented and contradicted by individual interviews with the teachers and their students providing further insight into how it feels to be a participant in the lesson instead of simply watching it on screen.

The film undoubtedly goes above and beyond to express that music is for everyone. The scenarios captured, and the sentiments evoked, are welcomingly familiar to anyone who has taken up music lessons at some point in their life. It may be difficult to refrain from tickling the ivories yourself upon leaving the screen.

Siomha McQuinn

G (See IFCO for details)

86 minutes
Making the Grade is released 13th April 2018

Making the Grade – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ ADIFF 2018: The Image You Missed

Síomha McQuinn takes a look at Donal Foreman’s documentary The Image You Missed, which explores the complexities of a father/son relationship.

The Image You Missed, Donal Foreman’s latest offering following the success of his debut feature Out of Here, is a deeply personal exploration of documentarist Arthur MacCaig, Foreman’s deceased father. Reminiscent of Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, The Image You Missed is the poetic and poignant product of Foreman’s effort to reconstruct a version of his father, a man he only met on a handful of occasions. While enriching his understanding of the man, Foreman searches for a reflection of himself among the footage and photographs found in MacCaig’s apartment. What emerges is more complicated.

Foreman finds numerous potential connections between himself and his father. They shared time, space and a passion for filmmaking. However, these connections do not fully align. In 1997, as Foreman made his first film, MacCaig made his last. MacCaig emigrated from the United States to Ireland whereas Foreman made the reverse journey. While MacCaig discredits the prioritisation of form over content in film, Foreman demonstrates a respect for form, evident from the temporal indicators throughout The Image You Missed and the division of the film into clear sections by way of the words of Seamus Heaney. Foreman even puts his own directorial stamp on his father’s footage through the stylistic use of sound and editing. All of these differences are visualised in the shot of a train, taken by Foreman, which performs the reverse shot of one of MacCaig’s own shots. They are two filmmakers who look at the world from different directions.

The personal intermingles with the political as The Image You Missed forefronts MacCaig’s intimate observation of balaclava-sporting IRA members during the Troubles. Foreman juxtaposes images of violence with footage of home movies he made as a child. His childhood filmmaking exudes escapism as opposed to the expository style of MacCaig’s filmmaking. In addition to being about his relationship with his father, Foreman’s film acts as a window into the conflict in the North during the Troubles.

The Image You Missed is engaging and evocative in both form and content. MacCaig’s footage is given new life and perspective under Foreman’s creative influence and his own footage provides a powerful contrast, as a personal archive of youthful experimentation and also as the profound reflections of a seasoned filmmaker. It is a film full of vulnerability and bravery that showcases questions of identity. Foreman investigates his father through the very medium with which MacCaig justified his absence. Despite their differences in approach, filmmaking is the clear unifier between them. One might ask themselves, is film thicker than blood?

 

The Image You Missed screened on Thursday, 1st March 2018 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (21 February – 4th March).

 

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