Unearthing The Irish In Tribeca

from The Irish Examiner USA: Unearthing The Irish In Tribeca

By Gwen Orel

If there was a unifying theme in the Irish films at the Tribeca Film Festival this year, which ran from April 21 – 29, it might be a kind of melancholy about the state of Ireland, from the genteel wildness in Lorcan Finnegan’s short “Foxes” to the cozy chaos in Terry George’s feature “Whole Lotta Sole.”

Unfortunately, we were unable to catch Henry Mason’s short “All That Way for Love.” But perhaps we should say a general feeling of yearning for home, since Macdara Vallely’s “Babygirl” is set in the Bronx, without any mention of Ireland at all. A coming of age story, it also captures a strong sense of place and home as a site of danger as well as beauty.

Here are our capsule reviews.

“Babygirl”

Macdara Vallely’s film centers on Lena (Yainis Ynoa), a young girl whose mother, Lucy (Rosa Arredondo), likes men a little too much. Lena’s best friend says “she’s a slut, deal with it.” Then Lucy takes up with much younger Victor (Flaco Navaja), whom she and Lena meet on a bus, who winked at Lena before flirting with Lucy.

Victor’s eyes “crawl all over Lena” at their home, and the situation gets sticky. To get him to break up with her mom, she agrees to go on a date with him. But even that doesn’t work.

The movie captures the nuances of this American, Puerto Rican family gorgeously. When Lucy says tearfully at Lena’s sweet sixteen celebration in the park that her daughter is her best friend it’s both lovely and the essence of the problem. But Lena is a strong, smart girl. This is not a film about tragedy or crime, but about the emotional issues that come with growing up. Victor is dangerous, but not a monster out of central casting, either. The shots of the Bronx and of New York are almost heartbreakingly gorgeous.

Grade: A-

“Death of a Superhero”

Ian Fitzgibbon’s film, adapted by Anthony McCarten from his novel of the same name, centers on Donald (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), who has cancer and a rare gift for graphic art. He’s retreated into a comic book fantasy to deal with his impending death.

He imagines himself a comic book hero, and a villainous character as his illness. He also draws lots of curvy women; he is, after all, a teenage boy.

His parents, particularly his mother, can’t seem to accept the inevitable, and that makes Donald even moodier and angrier. Andy Serkis plays a compassionate psychologist who helps him come to terms, and Asiling Loftus plays his love interest, a bit of a rebel who sees the beauty in his drawings.

With no hair or eyebrows, thanks to radiation, Donald looks otherworldly, and being a teenager is a bit like being an alien anyway. The movie, which is pensive and moody, captures that sense of strangeness. Much of the film is set in Donald’s school, a place where people seem to be biding their time to be unleashed on the world. Serkis here is not doing a comic characterization as he does in such films as “The Hobbit,” just straightforward character acting. Donald’s drawings come to life at times, but this is not an action film.

A rare section of humor has Donald’s friends trying to get one of the girls at school to have sex with him before he dies.

Overall, though I was moved by it, and weepy at times, this movie didn’t really draw me in. I suspect it may be a better book. Its themes are powerful but I wanted more tension from the comic book fight. Still, its quiet power is undeniable.

Grade: B+

“Whole Lotta Sole”

Terry George, who just won an Oscar for his short film “The Shore,” co-wrote, with Thomas Gallagher, and directed this comic gangster story. It stars Brendan Fraser and Colm Meaney in a kind of Irish modern fairy tale in which an ogre wants to take a baby, a son seeks his long lost father, and against all odds, people find their happily ever after.

Fraser plays Joe Maguire, an American running an antique shop in Belfast, hiding out from a woman we see chasing him down a Boston street in her underwear in the first scene. It’s his shop where Jimbo (Martin McCann) ends up when he’s on the run from stealing money from the fish market (which is called “Whole Lotta Sole”).

Jimbo is just a kid who needs to pay back the violent Mad Dog Flynn (David O’Hara) $5,000 by Monday, or Mad Dog will take his baby for his own girlfriend. Once in the shop, he takes Joe, Joe’s new girlfriend, Ethiopian refugee Sophie (Yaya DaCosta) and two children who’ve stowed away in a sofa (their dad hid them there to rob the shop after hours) hostage.

On top of that, Mad Dog soon realizes that the bag Jimbo stole has valuable passports and antiques in it – and targets the shop with a rocket launcher.

Colm Meaney plays Detective Weller, who tries to keep the hostage situation under control. He’s got his own problems with his son Randy (Michael Legge). But Randy ends up being important to the negotiations, because as a community relations man he knows the kids’ mum, a fierce Mary Ellen (Amanda Hurwitz). There are father issues in the film, too – Jimbo believes Joe is his father (he may well be).

The film is a bit like the irreverent “The Guard,” but really, despite its quirks, less off the wall than John Michael McDonagh’s cop buddy-film (which also had its share of emotional heft). There are laughs, but real nail-biting moments too. Belfast is lovingly captured. I particularly liked Sophie and Joe’s first date, at a folk concert. Music throughout is gorgeous.

At times the pace slowed down, but even that worked in a film that really is about family and what “home” means. Fraser and DaCosta have real chemistry, and O’Hara is a truly horrible villain (he punches his girlfriend the first time we see him) who is also, somehow, funny.

Grade: A

“Screenshot”

There’s no spoken dialogue in Cathal Burke’s short film (six minutes) story (Burke wrote and directed), but there are hard words. We watch a story unfold via clicks of a mouse on a Facebook screen. Pretty Kate (Julia Fox) meets a boy on Facebook, who is a friend of a friend, and a photographer. She goes out with him, and before you know it she has changed her status to “in a relationship,” and there’s a picture of the two of them as her new profile pic.

Then he starts posting other pictures of her as well.

It’s a haunting morality story of betrayal and bullying. I found myself thinking of the film long after I’d seen it – and I saw it twice. It’s a brilliant use of the medium of film. Fox’s face says it all, and the comments on Kate’s wall and the rush of clicks are more terrifying than dialogue would be.

Grade: A+

“Foxes”

Lorcan Finnegan directs a story by Garet Shanley that is eerie, and, like “Whole Lotta Sole,” suggests a dark Irish fairy tale.

Ellen (Marie Ruane) and James (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) live together in a house they can’t really afford, in a development where all the houses look the same. She’s a photographer whose business is going badly; he’s a commuter. Depressed and uneasy, she becomes attracted to the wild foxes who gnaw on the garbage outside.

The shots of the prefab rows of houses with the wildness of nature creeping in on them speak eloquently of an Ireland that grew too fast too soon (Director of Photography, Miguel de Olaso, Macgregor). Ellen feels alone in the suburbs, hemmed in. The foxes are free, but fierce.

She begins photographing them, and as she does, she changes. And even her husband can’t pull her back. The sound effects and music (composers Neil O’Connor, Gavin O’Brien) add greatly to a disturbing mood of menace.

Grade: A

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