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