A Second Look at ‘Patrick’s Day’

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Writer and filmmaker Caroline Farrell praises Terry McMahon’s authentic exploration of schizophrenia and a strong female character in his film Patrick’s Day.

Working on projects and supportive measures around mental health, I occasionally hear people remark that they have been put off from watching films that deal with mental health matters. The most common reasons being that a lot of the better known titles have historically dealt with topics on the spectrum through harrowing, disturbing or cartoonish, comedic demonization – and dismal endings. Having done some research on films of this nature, I unfortunately concur. However, what is also true is that through a new wave of novels, adaptations and thoughtful filmmaking, all helping to remove the stigmas of ignorance that have plagued us for so long, the tide is changing rapidly, and blessed be!

The experience of escapism and anonymity is generally all that I need from a film. To become just as invisible as the guy or gal next to me amongst a collective audience, to empathize and to walk in the shoes of the characters looming large on the big screen. When a film resonates on a lesser-explored level, magic happens. Something new is absorbed, a nugget of knowledge that enriches the soul.

Patrick’s Day ticks all of the above boxes.

It is essentially, a riveting examination of a relationship between a mother and her son. A son, coping with a mental illness, who is loving, trusting, vulnerable, and craving the intimacy he so rightly deserves. And a mother who is lonely, obsessive, riddled with fear, and is therefore, possessive and controlling of her boy to the point of destructive behaviour. On a superficial level, I could perceive her to be the one whose mental health is compromised. Chipping away the layers of this character however, reveals so much more. In experiencing the ultimate, emotive act that confirms to her son that he is a man, for his mother, the realisation of this fact forces her to face a truth she is not ready to accept; that her dependant son has changed forever, and is moving away from the highly claustrophobic and defensive world she has created for him. For both of them.

Some people, but by no means all, will no doubt find the film tough to watch. Affirmed with elegant articulation by retired professor of psychiatry, Ivor Browne, the film most definitely hits a nerve through its authentic exploration of schizophrenia and one young man’s particular journey of treatment, and mistreatment, through the character of Patrick, played with breath-taking realism and incredible range by Moe Dunford.

And aside from the crisis and turmoil of the theme and of the relational aspect between mother and son, there is also that ‘thing’ in this film. That ‘thing’ that gets bandied about so much these days, but is rarely taken seriously by the largely male fraternity of filmmakers. There is a ‘strong female character’ in Patrick’s Day, and in the truest sense of what that description actually means;  a lone parent, a warrior mother, human, fallible, and as fucked-up as they come, she is portrayed with a subtle complexity through a stunning performance from Kerry Fox that makes her real and damaged and ultimately, hopeful.

Congratulations to Terry McMahon, and to the actors, cast, crew and producers of Patrick’s Day on contributing to the placing of Irish cinema in the real world of real people, and with intelligent, empathic storytelling.

 

Patrick’s Day is in cinemas now.

Read an interview with Terry McMahon here

Caroline Farrell blogs here… on writing and film… and on a few of her favourite things.

 

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Patrick’s Day

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DIR/ WRI: Terry McMahon • PRO: Tim Palmer • DOP: Michael Lavelle • ED: Emer Reynolds • MUS: Ray Harman • DES: Emma Lowney • CAST: Kerry Fox, Moe Dunford, Philip Jackson

Patrick’s Day, writer/director Terry McMahon’s follow up to his debut feature Charlie Casanova, opens up with a title card giving a dictionary definition of “mental illness”. Immediately we get an understanding that what McMahon is aiming to do in this film is to address mental illness head on or at the very least create a portrayal of a person going through this condition that is grounded in some sense of reality. Given the various different portrayals of mental illness throughout the history of cinema, ranging from being depicted as manic and unyielding murderers or as a type of idiot savant whose main function is to allow the other “normal” characters to gain a sense of perspective on their own lives, the approach that the film takes on its subject and its characters makes for a much more challenging film.

The film centres around Patrick (Moe Dunford), a diagnosed schizophrenic who lives in a care home. He is allowed to leave the facility to attend the St. Patrick’s Day festival with his mother Maura (Kerry Fox). After becoming separated, Patrick waits for his mother at the hotel they are staying in, where he happens to meet Karen (Catherine Walker) and, after a few drinks in the bar, they end up staying the night together in her room and Patrick begins to fall in love with her.

It has to be said that the film struggles in its opening act. There are times here where the dialogue, in particular the scene of Patrick and Karen’s first meeting outside the hotel, comes across a bit too stagey and self aware for its own good. Another issue at this point of the film is the character of the Garda detective that Maura talks to when she is worried about her son being missing.. While the character comes into its own as the film progresses, when he is first introduced it feels as if he has wandered in from another film, especially in his scenes with Maura in the Garda station which completely feels at odds with the tone the film has established.

As the story progresses and once McMahon begins to focus on the relationship between Patrick and his mother, in particular the idea of what Maura would do to protect her son even as it crosses way beyond the point where she is causing more harm than good,  the film start to find its own voice. Worried about her son, and perhaps motivated by her own sense of loneliness and desperation, Maura convinces Karen to break any further contact with Patrick and soon makes attempts to eradicate Patrick’s memory of Karen from his mind.

The themes that McMahon wishes to explore, the idea of what love is whether it be a physical or mental relationship or from a parental sense, are brought out to the fore during these scenes. The main plot at this stage, attempting to force a man with mental illness to believe that the woman he loves is a delusion, raises questions about the nature of love in itself, whether it is something that exists in the mind or something that goes further than that? Meanwhile the role of Maura subverts the idea of paternal nurture and the thinking behind the belief of “mother knows best”. The key to her character is that we have no doubt that she believes what she is doing to her son is what’s best for him, even as she begins to take more extreme methods.

It is here where the performances of Dunford and Fox really stand out. Dunford is quite impressive in a role that could easily have descended into caricature, instead he adds more layers to Patrick, showing us that behind his friendly, almost childlike appearance, there is an unpredictable side to him that constantly keeps the viewer on the edge. Meanwhile, Kerry Fox is superb, allowing us to understand her behaviour and at times empathise with Maura even as the actions that she takes are completely unsympathetic.

While it takes its time to find its focus, Patrick’s Day is ultimately a fascinating portrayal, and subversion, of love, relationships and parental bonds. And, after the negative reception that greeted Charlie Casanova, it certainly is welcoming to see signs of growth in McMahon’s filmmaking skills and it certainly makes it interesting to see what he comes up with next.

Patrick Townsend

15A (See IFCO for details)
102minutes
Patrick’s Day
is released 6th February 2015

Patrick’s Day  – Official Website

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Interview: Terry McMahon, wri/dir ‘Patrick’s Day’

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Patrick’s Day is the story of a young man with mental health issues who becomes intimate with a suicidal flight attendant. When his obsessive mother finds out she enlists a dysfunctional cop to separate them.

Patrick Townsend sat down with Terry McMahon to talk about his second feature and his desire to capture lightning in a bottle.

Can you tell us about the starting point of the movie.

I wanted to make a film about a schizophrenic. The reason being is that schizophrenia, the reductionist sense of the diagnosis, is about the inability to differentiate between illusion and reality, and I wanted to find a way of thematically exploring that in a dramatic construct. I love characters who have difficulty defining the difference between illusion and reality.

You start off the film with the title stating what the definition of mental illness is [“any of various disorders in which a person’s thoughts, emotions, or behaviour are so abnormal as to cause suffering to himself, herself, or other people”]. Was there a particular reason for this?

That’s the Collins English Dictionary definition of mental illness. But the exact same definition could be applied to love. The consequence of your actions and the inability to differentiate between illusion and reality is one of the driving forces of love. So I think it states the theme unintentionally, which is its literal manifestation and then its romantic manifestation.

The film subverts the idea of parental love, with the character played by Kerry Fox. Was that kind of relationship another area you wanted to explore?

I love characters who have the courage to pursue what they think is right, despite the fact that the consequences can be profound. So in the negative and the positive I think it’s a great thing that we respond to the aspiration of a character. And all the characters in the film with no exceptions have an aspiration towards something that might be minute to us but profound to them. Or it might be profound to us but only seems like minute to them. So a mother who’s trying to protect her son, who believes that her love will justify all kinds of aberrations, is in itself the kind of mental illness we’re exploring. And I love the idea of having a character who thinks that, despite all consequences, they must do what they believe is right. On a political level, as a political metaphor, we have a government doing that at the moment, who justify to themselves completely aberrant behavior trying to qualify it as being beneficial to the people when in actuality they’re doing untold damage. So it works as a political metaphor and a human story.

I’m interested in the reception that the film has got from people who suffer from these kinds of mental illnesses. Have people from that community embraced the film?

Well, it’s funny. Before we made it I made sure the script was as freely available as possible to anybody who wanted to read it. We did a lot of research and I spoke to many different groups and many different individuals on both sides of the diagnostic fence. And schizophrenia is such a controversial subject anyway; it’s such an emotive, extreme response. So I met with people who claimed that the film was not representative of their lives and met others who claimed that the film was like their life recorded and summed up. We wanted to make sure we did not cause any unintentional offense to anybody but at the same time we wanted to remain true to an authentic world. What subsequently happened was that I received a staggering amount of letters and emails from people who’ve been so profoundly moved by it and feel empowered by it within the reductionist realm of their diagnosis that it’s actually humbling, really humbling.

Plus we have people like Prof Ivor Browne, one of the great mavericks in Europe, stand not just shoulder to shoulder with the film but actually make these extraordinary declarations about how authentic it is in the realm of his 45 years of experience. We have the amazing Dr Garrett O’Connor from the John Hopkins Institute, former head of the Betty Ford Clinic, making these extraordinary public statements about the film. So it’s working in a way that has even transcended our aspirations.

Can we talk about Moe Dunford. I understand that you had to fight to get him into this role.

Moe is a one-of-a generation talent to be honest with you. But nobody knows that yet. So there are people who understandably and justifiably were saying “we have a couple of well-known named actors who want to play this role, why are you going with an unknown?” I believed that Moe had the capacity to go to a place that no one else could really go to. So in order to justify casting him, I brought him home after the casting. There was a football match on that night and there were a couple of my mates coming around to have a beer. We got Moe drunk and brought him into the sitting room. My daughter had this beautiful dog, a border/collie mix, and the dog jumped all over him and licked his face and gave him such love and he was telling the dog how much he loved her and all that, and I was filming it. I uploaded it to youtube, sent it to the financiers and they cast him that night and were profoundly happy with him in the end.

That’s been pretty much justified… he won the Shooting Star in Berlin.

Yes and he’s won awards in America and he’s been embraced in America. It’s incredible. Heavyweight agents, heavyweight casting directors, heavyweight everyone suddenly want to be a part of him. It worked out for everyone in the end. It’s just one of those things – to take a risk on an unknown entity is a difficult thing. If it doesn’t pay off, you’re in trouble. If it does pay off, everybody’s thrilled.

You need to take that risk though…

Most of the times we don’t though. We just replicate what we feel already works. That’s one of the reasons why repetition becomes tiresome for an audience.

Looking to the future, I understand you have one or two projects down the line.

There’s a hard-core prison drama called Dancehall Bitch and it’s about what men are prepared to do to convince themselves they’re men. It’s dark and aggressive and potentially, I think, a very visceral film, but it’s a genre film, a prison genre film. And I’m excited about the idea of working with Emmet Scanlon again, Moe Dunford again, Catherine Walker again, Michael Lavelle again, the cinematographer, Emer Reynolds again as editor, a small core group of remarkable people who I think could capture something remarkable.

Talking about taking risks, is it important for you in your career to challenge yourself with each film and to create something different?

I don’t really have a career and I don’t really see the world in terms of a career because I’m piss-ass broke, so I don’t know what a career is. But I do know that there are some people who would feel that the next step should be towards some sort of commercial venture, but I don’t know what that means. I just want to be on set with a small core group of people trying to capture lightning in a bottle, whether people like it or not. Something like Charlie Casanova creates such extreme reactions in the negative; something like Patrick’s Day creates such extreme reactions in the positive, but you can’t control either of those things. All you can do is hope that on the day in front of the lens of the camera you capture lightning in a bottle.

Patrick’s Day is in cinemas from 6th February 2015

 

 

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‘Patrick’s Day’ Wins at Woodstock

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Terry McMahon’s latest film Patrick’s Day picked up three awards at the Woodstock Film Festival in the US. The film was awarded the Maverick Award for Best Feature Narrative.

Michael Lavelle took the Haskell Wexler Award for Best Cinematography and the James Lyons Award for Best Editing of a Feature Narrative  went to Emer Reynolds.

Patrick’s Day stars Kerry Fox, Moe Dunford, Catherine Walker and Philip Jackson.

Patrick’s Day will be released in Irish cinemas in early 2015 and will have a gala screening at the Cork Film Festival next month.

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‘Patrick’s Day’ Wins in US

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Terry McMahon’s  Patrick’s Day has won two jury awards at the Hell’s Half Mile Film and Music Festival in Michigan.

Terry McMahon took the award for Best Screenplay while Moe Dunford won Best Actor.

The powerful tale of a young man with mental health issues who falls for a suicidal flight attendant Patrick’s Day had its world premiere at the prestigious SXSW Film Festival in Austin Texas in March of this year.  The film has also screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Shanghai Film Festival, and went on to win ‘Best Irish Feature Film’ at The 26th Galway Film Fleadh on 13th July.

You can read a review of the film here

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‘Patrick’s Day’ Screens at Woodstock

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Terry McMahon’s critically acclaimed film Patrick’s Day has been selected  for competition at the Woodstock Film Festival, which runs from October 15th – October 19th in Woodstock New York.

 

Written and directed by Terry McMahon, this powerful story of a young man with mental health issues who falls for a suicidal flight attendant Patrick’s Day won the Audience Award for ‘Best Film’ at The 26th Galway Film Fleadh and also just been awarded the Director’s Guild of America 2014 ‘Finders Series’ Award, which is awarded to only one film each year.

 

 

 

 

 

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‘Patrick’s Day’ Wins Screen Directors Guild ‘Finders Series’ Award

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Terry McMahon’s critically acclaimed film, Patrick’s Day has won the coveted Screen Directors Guild ‘Finders Series’ Award.  The award – presented to only one Irish film a year – will see the Director’s Guild of America host a screening of Patrick’s Day for an audience of industry insiders at the legendary Directors’ Guild of America (DGA) Theatre on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles on October 10th.

Writer / Director McMahon and producer Tim Palmer will fly out to the event and engage in a week of meetings with Hollywood heavyweights to secure distribution for Patrick’s Day and plan future projects.

The powerful tale of a young man with mental health issues who falls for a suicidal flight attendant Patrick’s Day had its world premiere at the prestigious SXSW Film Festival in Austin Texas in March of this year.  The film has also screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Shanghai Film Festival, and went on to win ‘Best Irish Feature Film’ at The 26th Galway Film Fleadh on 13th July.

Following the announcement, writer and director Terry McMahon commented, “The Screen Directors Guild ‘Finders Series’ Award is one of the best filmmaker prizes in the world and the fact that someone like me can win something like this means there is hope for any writer stuck on their first draft. The idea that the Directors Guild of America is hosting a screening of Patrick’s Day at the DGA Theatre on Sunset Boulevard means there is hope for any director wondering what the hell to do with their unfinished movie. And the notion that one film can still have the power to alter reality means there is hope for all us outsiders.”

Rachel Lysaght, co-producer, noted the commitment of the director and the filmmaking team, saying “We are deeply honoured and so proud that Patrick’s Day has won the Screen Directors Guild Finders Series Award.  Never has it been more pertinent to address the vital importance of caring for our mental health.  The aim for this film has always been more than cinema – we want to encourage a wider discussion on mental health and how we care for those who have been labeled with a ‘disorder’ – and it is a testament to our amazing cast and crew that the film’s success has been recognised through this wonderful award.  We cannot wait to bring the film to a wider audience.”

Patrick’s Day is an Ignition Film Productions production with Underground Films and Forefront Features in association with Bord Scannán na hÉireann / The Irish Film Board and RTÉ.

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Patricks Day’s – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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Conor Fleming checks out Terry McMahon’s Patrick’s Day, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

‘When I first saw Terry McMahon’s first film, Charlie Casanova, I hated it’, claimed festival programmer Gareth O’Brien as he introduced Terry’s latest film, Patrick’s Day, to the audience in the sold out Galway theatre. ‘But then I watched it a few more times and it had something that kept drawing me back to it’, he continued before going on to describe the polarising reception Terry’s debut feature has had, with mention that his latest film Patrick’s Day, is just as challenging and polarizing as you would expect.

 

Patrick’s Day is a powerful drama that focuses on title character Patrick (Moe Dunford), a young man suffering with mental health issues and the offbeat relationship that develops between him and suicidal air hostess Karen (Catherine Walker). A relationship that is threatened by the ever growing presence of Patrick’s obsessive mother Maura (Kerry Fox) who seeks to separate them with a misguided and almost ignorance attitude into how to handle her son’s illness.

 

It is a film whose powerful and engaging themes are in danger of being eclipsed by the performances of the main cast; with Kerry Fox and rising star Moe Dunford in particular giving exceptional performances. Moe, when asked about what research he had done for the film, replied, “none”, as he has lived with familiar member’s with mental illness. This was not just any role for him, but one he lived, a fact that shines through brightly in its unflinching accuracy and impactful delivery.
A drama of this nature can often time feel a little too overwhelming, which again runs the problem of driving away some potential suitors who would otherwise thoroughly enjoy the film. Thankfully this was something it seems Terry was aware of as the main cast is rounded out with Phillip Jackson playing police officer and aspiring comedian John Freeman, whose witty humour and flat-falling dad jokes gives the script some lift in area’s much needed.

 

McMahon’s writing skill is apparent from the get go, and whose style of direction seems to blend perfectly with the expert work of cinematographer Michael Lavelle. Shot in a simplistic yet incredibly technical manner, it is the perfect display of technique meeting storytelling resulting in a staggeringly beautiful film. Particular mention must go to a sequence in the third act, one which is truly horrific but incredibly powerful, and one which solidifies the message of the film; with memories of a similar sequence from Requiem for a Dream – it is truly one that must be seen to be believed.

 
The difference between Patrick’s Day and McMahon’s previous work is that Patrick’s Day is immediately identifiable as a stand-out film on first viewing; one that has an impact and message that will only grow stronger with time. By his own admission, director Terry McMahon set out to make a difficult film. Not a film to please a majority film audience but one to do its subject matter justice, and to prove there is an audience for challenging, emotional films. Given the care this movie treated its often mishandled subject matter, Patrick’s Day’s is an incredible display of the impact a movie can truly have if you let it.

 

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

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