Review: ‘The Watchers’ (2024), starring Dakota Fanning, Georgina Campbell, Oliver Finnegan and Olwen Fouéré

June 6, 2024

by Carla Hay

Pictured from left to right: Olwen Fouéré, Oliver Finnegan, Dakota Fanning and Georgina Campbell in “The Watchers” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Watchers” (2024)

Directed by Ishana Night Shyamalan

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ireland, the horror film “The Watchers” (based on A.M. Shine’s novel of the same name) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one black/biracial person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 28-year-old American artist, who works in a pet store, gets lost in a wooded area and becomes trapped in a mysterious portal with other people being watched by fearsome creatures. 

Culture Audience: “The Watchers” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Dakota Fanning, the novel on which the movie is based, and horror movies that are more style over substance.

Georgina Campbell, Dakota Fanning, Oliver Finnegan and Olwen Fouéré in “The Watchers” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Watchers” succeeds in creating a foreboding atmosphere and some creature feature scares. However, this horror movie’s story (about people trapped and being watched in a forest portal) becomes a nonsensical mess with shoddy film editing. The movie repeatedly contradicts itself in ways that are never explained, thereby ruining the story’s credibility and having scenes that turn out to be fairly useless.

Written and directed by Ishana Night Shyamalan, “The Watchers” is her feature-film directorial debut. The movie is based on A.M. Shine’s 2022 novel “The Watchers.” Ishana Night Shyamalan is the daughter of M. Night Shyamalan, who has written and directed several horror movies that have been hit and miss, in terms of quality. M. Night Shyamalan is also one of the producers of “The Watchers.” Ishana Night Shyamalan was previously a writer and director of some episodes of her father’s Apple TV+ horror series “Servant,” which was on the air from 2019 to 2023.

In “The Watchers,” the main protagonist is a 28-year-old struggling artist named Mina (played by Dakota Fanning), an American living in Galway, Ireland. Mina (a bachelorette who lives alone) has a day job working at a pet store. Early in the movie, a brief glimpse of a sign post shows several missing persons flyers on a sign post. It’s an obvious indication that people have been disappearing with alarming regularity in the Galway area, but the movie’s screenplay is so thinly constructed, no one is seen talking about these disappearances in the movie.

At night, Mina likes to go to pubs and flirt with men, by wearing disguises and making up fake stories about herself. An early scene in the movie shows Mina wearing a black wig, going to a pub, flirting with a young stranger named Collin (played by Shane O’Regan), and lying to him about who she is. Mina pretends that she’s a ballerina named Caroline. This is the most that the movie reveals about what Mina likes to do in her leisure time.

Mina has been tasked with delivering a yellow parrot to a customer. Mina sarcastically tells the parrot, “Try not to die,” which is a sentence that the parrot repeats several times throughout the movie. Mina is driving through a heavily wooded area on her way to deliver this parrot when her SUV suddenly stops working. And because this is a horror movie, her mobile phone can’t get any signals in this remote area. (The woods scenes in “The Watchers” were filmed on location at Ballinastoe Woods in Ireland’s Wicklow County.)

As already shown in the movie’s trailer, Mina gets out to walk and find help. But when she turns around, she sees that her vehicle has suddenly vanished. Feeling stranded and helpless, Mina decides she’s going to name the parrot Darwin, presumably the namesake of Charles Darwin, the scientist credited with the “survival of the fittest” theory of evolution. Mina tells the parrot: “If we’re going to die here, you might as well have a name.”

Faster than you can say “incoherent horror movie,” Mina sees an elderly woman standing at the doorway of a portal. The woman, who later introduces herself as Madeline (played by Olwen Fouéré), shouts to Mina that if Mina wants to live, then Mina has five seconds to run through the door. A terrified Mina runs through the door, which slams shut behind them.

Mina finds out that this door has led to a mysterious house with large glass windows for walls. Madeline introduces her to the other people in the house, which Madeline calls “the coop”: friendly Ciara (played by Georgina Campbell) and rebellious Daniel (played by Oliver Finnegan), who both say that they have been in this house for an undetermined period of time. Madeline has been in the coop the longest.

Madeline explains to Mina that every night, people in the coop are watched by creatures for the creatures’ amusement. The people in the coop are not allowed to see the creatures. When the creatures come out at night, the glass walls and windows turn into mirrors from the inside, so that anyone inside the coop can only see their reflections instead of outside the house.

Madeline then explains that there are other rules besides not being able to look at the creatures. People inside the coop cannot try to escape and cannot leave the house at night. If they leave the house during the day (they have to hunt for their own food), they can’t be in the sunlight, they have to be back in the coop by sunset, and they can’t go near “the burrows,” which are really holes or caves. Anyone who breaks these rules will be killed by the creatures, says Madeline.

The first half of “The Watchers” drags with repetition, as Mina and Daniel break the rules and try to find ways to escape. As already revealed in the trailer for “The Watchers,” Ciara is married, and her husband John (played by Alistair Brammer) is somewhere in the woods. John is seen running frantically through the woods at night during the movie’s opening scene.

“The Watchers” has a lot of character actions that don’t make much sense. Mina doesn’t really ask a lot of questions when she’s trapped with these three strangers. Madeline, who used to be a university professor who taught history, seems to know a lot of the “rules” and is very bossy about them, thereby making it obvious that she knows more than she’s saying. Ciara barely mentions her missing husband John until he apparently comes knocking on the front door.

Mina has a past trauma that is haunting her: Her mother died when Mina was 13 years old, and Mina and her identical twin sister Lucy witnessed this death. Mina has been estranged from Lucy ever since. What happened to the sisters’ mother is shown in a flashback, which explains why Lucy refuses Mina’s attempts to reconnect with Lucy. However, this part of Mina’s past is somewhat mishandled in “The Watchers,” considering what happens at the end of the movie. (The origins and secrets of these “watcher” creatures are eventually revealed.)

“The Watchers” has some mild jump scares that slightly improve when the creatures are fully seen, after the movie repeatedly teases what these creatures look like. The movie’s cinematography by Eli Arenson is intentionally dark and murky for most of the film. After a while, all of this drab darkness seems like a smokescreen for a weak story. A professor character named Rory Kilmartin (played by John Lynch) is introduced in a very jumbled and rushed turn of events in the last third of the film, when Mina suddenly becomes a paranormal detective in ways that never look believable.

None of the acting in “The Watchers” is anything special. The movie spends a lot of time with the four residents of the coop, but Ciara and Daniel remain underdeveloped characters. Fanning’s Mina is supposed to be emotionally disconnected, but it results in a very dull performance. “The Watchers” has an effective music score (from Abel Korzeniowski) that helps create some suspenseful tension. However, having the right style in creating a mood cannot make up for the hollow characters and the story’s lack of cohesion in “The Watchers,” which has a very substandard ending.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “The Watchers” in U.S. cinemas on June 7, 2024.

Review: ‘Aisha’ (2022), starring Letitia Wright and Josh O’Connor

May 12, 2024

by Carla Hay

Letitia Wright in “Aisha” (Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

“Aisha” (2022)

Directed by Frank Berry

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ireland, the dramatic film “Aisha” features a racially diverse cast of characters (black, white and a few Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A young Nigerian woman seeks asylum in Ireland and experiences various immigration problems around the same time that she and an Irish man develop a friendship. 

Culture Audience: “Aisha” will appeal primarily to fans of the movie’s headliners and low-key dramas that have realistic portrayals of immigration issues in Ireland.

Letitia Wright and Josh O’Connor in “Aisha” (Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

“Aisha” is a well-acted drama that authentically depicts the quiet desperation and loneliness that refugees can experience. Letitia Wright and Josh O’Connor give poignant performances as two people who form a tender friendship amid immigration uncertainty. Wright portrays a Nigerian immigrant seeking asylum in Ireland, while O’Connor portrays the native Irishman who befriends her. Thankfully, “Aisha” doesn’t devolve into cringeworthy cliches that most narrative films usually have when they cover the complicated and sensitive subject matter of refugee immigration.

Written and directed by Frank Berry, “Aisha” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival and was released later that year in Ireland and the United Kingdom. The movie takes place in unnamed cities in Ireland, where “Aisha” was filmed on location. The story’s timeline shows a few months in the life of Aisha Osagie (played by Wright), who has been living in Ireland for a little more than a year when the story begins.

Aisha, who is in her late 20s, does not have any family members with her in Ireland, where the International Protection Accommodation Services (IPAS) handles refugee cases. She has applied for permanent residency and is waiting for an interview with IPAS officials to determine if her application is approved or denied. In the meantime, Aisha lives with other immigrants in an accommodation center, where she has been assigned by IPAS.

She has a compassionate immigration attorney named Peter Flood (played by Lorcan Cranitch), who has meetings with Aisha to advise her and discuss their case strategy. Aisha doesn’t want anyone’s pity, and she doesn’t want to live off of charity handouts. She wants to be a hard-working, law-abiding resident who can start a new and safe life in Ireland.

Aisha’s story isn’t revealed immediately but is told in various conversations that she has with people. Aisha is alone in Ireland because her father and brother were killed in a home invasion by a group of men who are her father’s debtors. He borrowed money from these men so that Aisha could go to a university in Nigeria. She studied geography and regional planning at the university but had to drop out, presumably because of what happened to her family.

Aisha’s widowed mother Moraya Osagie (played by Rosemary Aimiyekagbon) can’t afford to leave Nigeria. In Ireland, Aisha works part-time as an assistant at a beauty salon and sends some of her salary money back to her mother. A few scenes in the movie show Aisha talking with her mother by video calls. Aisha and Moraya have a very good mother/daughter relationship, but Aisha doesn’t tell her mother certain things if she thinks this information will upset Moraya.

Aisha is a quiet loner who is friendly but doesn’t get too close to the people she meets. However, Aisha has developed a bond with the three people who share a room with her: a young mother named Habiba Momoh (played by Antionette Doyle); Habiba’s son Abdul Momoh (played by Emmanuel Hassan); and Habiba’s daughter Ruykaya Momoh (played by Florence Adebambo). The movie doesn’t show how Aisha got to know this family, but they are also from Africa, and are the closest that Aisha has to family members in Ireland.

A company called Embankment Security works for IPAS in doing inspections at IPAS accommodation centers. A newly hired Embankment Security guard named Conor Healy (played by O’Connor), who’s about the same age as Aisha, first sees her when he and some colleagues are at the accommodation center where she lives. The Embankment Security guards later come back with garda (Irish police), under orders to take away Habiba, Abdul and Ruykaya, who get deported to the United Kingdom.

This separation is understandably very upsetting to Aisha and witnessed by Conor, who is helpless to do anything about it. Aisha is usually quiet, but she also has a very assertive side to her. When the Momoh family is being taken away, Aisha says that the family has a right to call IPAS, but the accommodation center manager Brendan Close (played Denis Conway) doesn’t want to to hear this truth and treats Aisha like a she’s a rebellious pest. Brendan hints that he could make life miserable for Aisha if she continues to question him.

Brendan and Aisha clash during another incident where she stands up to his tyrannical style of managing. One day at the accommodation center, Aisha asks a kitchen worker to heat up a small container of homemade halal in the kitchen’s microwave. Brendan is nearby and strictly forbids it because he says that Aisha and other accommodation center residents can only eat the food provided by the accommodation center.

Aisha and Brendan have a short-lived argument about it. She eventually has to do what Brendan says. Conor witnesses this verbal conflict. When Conor is alone with Aisha, he tells her to meet him later at the kitchen so that she can use the microwave oven for the food she wants to have. It’s the start of a friendship that is tentative at first but grows stronger as the story goes on.

Just like Aisha, Conor is quiet and a little withdrawn. However, he and Aisha eventually open up to each other about certain things in their lives. Conor also has a troubled past: He says he was in prison for six years for drug-related crimes. Conor also tells Aisha that his addictions are cocaine, meth and alcohol, but he has been clean and sober for the past three years.

Conor is currently living with his mother and is taking information technology classes, with the eventual goal to go to college. Nothing is revealed about Conor’s love life, but Aisha eventually tells Conor that she is separated from a husband who abandoned her shortly after the wedding in Nigeria. Aisha is not in contact with her estranged husband, and she doesn’t know where he is.

Conor is obviously attracted to Aisha, and she might feel the same way. But it should come as no surprise that Aisha is reluctant to get romantically involved with someone when she doesn’t know if she will be allowed to stay in Ireland. Aisha tells Conor that up front, but Conor is persistent and shows he wants to be a loyal friend who will be there for Aisha, no matter what happens.

Given these circumstances, a stereotypical movie would morph into an “against all odds” romantic courtship that overshadows the very stressful and life-changing matter of Aisha’s immigration issues. A stereotypical movie would also have Conor be some type of “savior” character. However, “Aisha” does not go down a typical route that movies like this usually take. For example, Conor is not in the movie as much as some viewers might think he will be.

“Aisha” never strikes a false note in showing not only the obstacles that refugees face in seeking asylum but also how authority figures can use or abuse their power in ways that can massively affect refugees. Wright and O’Connor give touching performances that go beyond the immigration issues because Aisha and Conor are both two lonely people who find a connection with each other during a time in their lives when they least expect it. “Aisha” has many moments of bleakness but it also offers hope that people at the lowest points of their lives can find other people who care and can make a positive difference.

Samuel Goldwyn Films released “Aisha” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on May 10, 2024. The movie was released in Ireland and the United Kingdom in November 2022.

Review: ‘Joyride’ (2022), starring Olivia Colman and Charlie Reid

March 29, 2023

by Carla Hay

Olivia Colman and Charlie Reid in “Joyride” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

“Joyride” (2022)

Directed by Emer Reynolds

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ireland, the comedy/drama film “Joyride” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An unhappy 12-year-old boy, who runs away from home by stealing a taxi, finds out that a miserable mother with a newborn child is in the back of the taxi, and these unlikely travel partners go on a road trip together.

Culture Audience: “Joyride” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of star Olivia Colman and are interested in sappy and unrealistic dramedies.

Lochlann Ó Mearáin in “Joyride” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

The comedy/drama “Joyride” is more like a train wreck. It’s phony schmaltz that doesn’t deserve the great talent of Olivia Colman. Among the many cringeworthy moments is a low point when a 12-year-old boy teaches a first-time middle-aged mother how to breastfeed her baby. The movie is filled with idiotic dialogue and blatant attempts to manipulate viewers’ emotions in a very hackneyed way. It’s no wonder that Oscar-winning actress Colman distanced herself from this embarrassing flop by doing little to no promotion for it.

Directed by Emer Reynolds and written by Ailbhe Keogan, “Joyride” takes place in unnamed parts of Ireland. The movie was actually filmed in Kerry County, Ireland. The beginning of the movie shows a 12-year-old boy named Mully (played by Charlie Reid) is at a pub called The Greyhound, where he is on stage singing Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher.” He’s performing for the crowd because this event is a fundraiser for his deceased and beloved mother Rita Mulligan, who recently passed away of an unnamed illness.

Mully has a dishonest and selfish father named James (played by Lochlann Ó Mearáin), who is raising Mully and Mully’s baby sister, who doesn’t have a name in the movie. James has quickly moved on to a new girlfriend named Imelda, who is living in the household too. At this fundraising event, Mully notices that his father is already taking the cash out of the donation container. Mully tells James to stop, but James ignores him.

James abruptly tells Mully, “What’s for her is for us. She’d want us to have it. You, me, your sister the baby. It’s not cheap having a new one in the house.” Viewers later find out that James is in debt to some local thugs, so the money probably won’t be going to his family. As a consolation, James gives Mully a €50 bill. Mully refuses it and instead grabs the wad of cash from James and runs out into the street.

At that same moment, a taxi driver named Paddy (played by Seán O’Connor) is in the street and has temporarily stepped out of his taxi to load some luggage from a passenger. But the only thing that Mully sees is a taxi with an open door and no one inside. Mully impulsively gets in the taxi and drives away. James runs after Mully and will continue to try to find Mully, not so much because he’s concerned about his son’s safety, but mainly because James wants the money that Mully took.

It isn’t long before Mully finds out that there are two people who’ve been sleeping in the back seat of the car: an attorney named Joy (played by Colman) and her newborn daughter Robin. Joy is startled out of her sleep and finds out that a runaway boy is driving the taxi. Joy doesn’t do the right thing and get out of the car that’s being illegally driven by a child, because there would be no “Joyride” movie if an attorney like Robin acted like a responsible adult. Instead, Robin makes a deal with Mully: She won’t turn him in to authorities if Mully drives her to the airport.

As so begins a tedious and ridiculous road trip, where Mully and Joy steal more cars, to throw the authorities and Mully’s father James off of their track. Predictably, there are many distractions and detours on the way to the airport, along with plenty of bickering from this unlikely pair getting to know each other. Mully doesn’t do all of the driving. Joy does some of the driving in places where there might be garda check points or other places where a 12-year-old boy driving a car would be easily noticed.

Joy wants to go to the airport because she’s taking a trip to the home where she plans to give up Robin for adoption. At first Joy won’t tell Mully who is adopting Robin, but eventually Joy reveals that a younger relative of Joy’s named Mags (played by Aisling O’Sullivan) has agreed to take the baby, because Joy doesn’t want to raise this child. Joy explains that the pregnancy was unplanned, the baby’s father is someone Joy barely knows, and Joy was surprised that she got pregnant at her age.

Mully is puzzled over why Joy would want to give up her child for someone else to raise. Joy get defensive and goes on this rant: “Because I don’t like kids, and Mags does! People give away babies all the time—to Romanian orphanages, to child trafficker, to Chinese gymnastics academies. I’m giving mine to a loving home. Stone me.”

Joy adds, “Look, more women should take my lead, instead of dragging up kids they never wanted. They should be selfless enough to give them away to women who eat, sleep and dream babies. There’s enough of them out there.”

The problem with this fake feminist speech in “Joyride” is that the movie is filled with numerous scenarios where Joy has to be taught how to be a decent human being by a 12-year-old boy. The movie’s messaging is obvious: “Look at what happens when a boy who wants a mother unexpectedly finds a woman who doesn’t want her child. The boy has more emotional intelligence than this bitter woman, so he’s going to teach her some life lessons about opening her heart.”

Not surprisingly, Joy has a backstory that’s supposed to explain why she’s rude and prickly to almost everyone she meets. Yes, it’s another “blame it on the childhood” movie, where there are flashbacks to Joy’s negative childhood experiences with a cruel mother who appears to be mentally ill. Kate Brick plays a young Joy in these flashbacks.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the performances in the movie, although Colman looks like she regrets every minute that she signed up for this treacly mess. The major problems are with the screenplay and direction of “Joyride,” which wants to give a misguided sitcom treatment to some heavy issues. By the time the movie comes to its predictable and very corny end, viewers will feel like this “Joyride” was nothing but a trip to time-wasting absurdity.

Magnolia Pictures released “Joyride” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on December 23, 2022. The movie was released in Ireland and the United Kingdom on July 29, 2022.

Review: ‘The Quiet Girl,’ starring Carrie Crowley, Andrew Bennett, Catherine Clinch, Michael Patric and Kate Nic Chonaonaigh

March 19, 2023

by Carla Hay

Catherine Clinch in “The Quiet Girl” (Photo courtesy of Super LTD)

“The Quiet Girl”

Directed by Colm Bairéad

Irish and English with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1981, in unnamed rural parts of Ireland, the dramatic film “The Quiet Girl” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class.

Culture Clash: A shy and introverted 9-year-old girl is sent to live with a married couple who are distant relatives for a summer, and she finds out a tragic family secret.

Culture Audience: “The Quiet Girl” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching low-key but emotionally touching family dramas.

Catherine Clinch and Carrie Crowley in “The Quiet Girl” (Photo courtesy of Super LTD)

The very accurately titled “The Quiet Girl” is a meditative drama about how an introverted Irish girl spends a life-changing summer away from her troubled home and learns some poignant lessons about grief and family love. This is not a movie that is going to please viewers expecting to see more high-stakes dramatics or emotional meltdowns in the story. It’s a more of reflection of the quiet ways that people evolve or affected by life events.

Written and directed by Colm Bairéad, “The Quiet Girl” is based on Claire Keegan’s 2010 novella “Foster.” For the first two-thirds of the movie, there isn’t much of a plot, but the credible acting by the principal cast members can hold viewers’ interest until the movie’s last third, which is really the emotional heart of the story. “The Quiet Girl” had its world premiere at the 2022 Berlin International Film Festival, where the movie won the a Crystal Bear prize from the Generation Kplus International Jury for Best Film. The movie was also nominated for Best International Feature Film for the 2023 Academy Awards.

In the beginning of “The Quiet Girl,” which takes place in 1981, in unnamed parts of rural Ireland, viewers see that the movie’s title character is 9-year-old Cáit (played by Catherine Clinch) is shy, introverted and mostly neglected in her large, dysfunctional family. (“The Quiet Girl” was filmed in Dublin and County Meath, Ireland.) Her father Dan (played by Michael Patric) is an irresponsible alcoholic who often spends his money on alcohol instead of paying certain people he needs to pay (such as a hay deliverer) to keep the family farm running smoothly.

Dan also cheats on his wife and has the audacity to pick up one of his girlfriends for a secretive tryst while Cáit is in the back seat of the car. Her father comment to this mistress about Cáit: “She’s the wanderer.” Cáit’s mother (played by Kate Nic Chonaonaigh), who doesn’t have a name in the move is preoccupied with helping run the farm and taking care of the growing family. Cáit has three older sisters, and their mother is pregnant again.

At school, Cáit is a social outcast who gets called a “weirdo” by some other girls. At home, Cáit is quiet at the dining table, while her sisters are talkative and mostly ignore Cáit. Sometimes, Cáit hides underneath her bed, as if she’s too timid to face the world. She’s such an introvert, she often seems to be invisible to the people around her. The movie has several scenes where Cáit is in the same room when people talk about Cáit as if she isn’t there.

One day, Cáit is told to get in the car with her father, who drives her far away to the farm home of his distant older cousin Eibhlín Cinnsealach (played by Carrie Crowley) and Eibhlín’s husband Seán Cinnsealach (played by Andrew Bennett), who live on the farm by themselves. It’s the first time that Cáit has met these two relatives. Dan tells Cáit that she’s going to live with Eibhlín and Seán for the summer, maybe longer, but definitely until after Cáit’s mother gives birth. This move comes without any advance notice to Cáit, who is dropped off at Eibhlín and Seán’s home with only the clothes that she’s wearing.

Dan stays for a meal, but then he leaves without seeming to care about any confusion that Cáit must be feeling. Cáit doesn’t know why she was singled out among her siblings to be sent away to live in another household, and her parents don’t tell her why. However, the movie drops some big hints. It’s shown that Cáit is sometimes a bedwetter, which irritates her mother, who has to do the cleaning. Her parents also want to temporarily ease some of the financial burden of taking care of so many kids, by sending away the child who is least likely to protest this move.

Eibhlín is immediately kind and compassionate to Cáit, while Seán is cold and distant to Cáit at first. The pacing of “The Quiet Girl” tends to get sluggish when the movie becomes a series of scenes showing Eibhlín teaching Cáit how to do domestic chores inside the house. Eventually, Seán warms up a little to Cáit, and he shows her how to do domestic chores outside the house.

However, Seán seems to be bothered by Cáit is wearing boys’ clothes when she’s not doing the outdoor chores with him. The boys’ clothes are the only children’s clothes that the couple had in the house when Dan dropped off Cáit to live with the Eibhlín and Seán. Later, Seán starts to feel more comfortable around Cáit after she begins to wear girls’ clothes that Eibhlín buys for her.

Not long after Cáit begins living there, she tells Eibhlín that she overheard Cáit’s mother say that Cáit can live with Eibhlín and Seán as long as Cáit wants. Cáit asks Eibhlín if it’s true. Eibhlín doesn’t directly answer the question. Her response is simply to compare her household to Cáit ‘s household: “There are no secrets in this house. There’s shame in that house.”

Later, when Cáit tells Eibhlín that Cáit’s father didn’t have the money to pay the hay man, Eibhlín asks Cáit if it would offend her parents if Eibhlín gave money to Cáit’s parents. Cáit says it wouldn’t bother her mother, but it would upset her father. The matter is then dropped, but it’s another indication that Cáit was left at this home for financial reasons, because she would be one less mouth to feed. When Cáit is asleep, Eibhlín goes into the room and whispers, “If you were mine, I’d never leave you in a house of strangers.”

Eibhlín and Seán keep mostly to themselves, so Cáit lives a fairly isolated existence with them. Cáit has little to no interaction with children of her own age. However, she gets certain things from this household that she doesn’t have in her parents’ household: kindness, attention and stability, beginning with Eibhlín, and later from Seán. Clinch, Crowley and Bennett give nuanced and effective performances as this trio of people who form a new family unit.

One day, a local elderly villager named Gearóid (played by Martin Oakes) dies. He was well-liked by Eibhlín and Seán, so they bring Cáit with them to the wake. A spiteful gossip named Úna (played by Joan Sheehy) is also at the wake. Eibhlín is polite to Úna but also seems a little wary of her. Úna plays a pivotal role in the story when she spends some time alone with Cáit during the wake.

“The Quiet Girl” is a movie about people who live simple lives on the surface but have complicated interior lives that they are reluctant to show other people. It’s a poignant story about a girl who discovers that the life she is forced to live with her parents isn’t necessarily the life that she deserves. “The Quiet Girl” is the opposite of a flashy movie with oversized personalities, because it takes a contemplative look at how perspectives can drastically change from life’s more subtle moments.

Super LTD released “The Quiet Girl” in select U.S. cinemas for a limited engagement on December 16, 2022, and then re-released the movie in select U.S. cinemas on February 24, 2023. “The Quiet Girl” was released in Ireland on May 13, 2022.

Review: ‘The Wonder’ (2022), starring Florence Pugh

November 16, 2022

by Carla Hay

Tom Burke, Florence Pugh and Kíla Lord Cassidy in “The Wonder” (Photo by Christopher Barr/Netflix)

“The Wonder” (2022)

Directed by Sebastián Lelio

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1862 in the Midlands of Ireland, the dramatic film “The Wonder” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A Nightingale nurse from England is hired to go to Ireland to find out the reason why an 11-year-old girl has reportedly been able to survive for four months without eating and without any signs of starvation.

Culture Audience: “The Wonder” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Florence Pugh and movies that make pointed observations about how religion can control and influence people’s lives.

Josie Walker, Toby Jones, Kíla Lord Cassidy, Niamh Algar and Florence Pugh in “The Wonder” (Photo by Aidan Monaghan/Netflix)

“The Wonder” will test the patience of viewers with short attention spans, but the movie’s subtlety, nuances and Florence Pugh’s standout performance are great rewards for people who want to see a drama about religion and moral hypocrisy. This is the type of movie where some of the biggest revelations don’t happen in loud, bombastic moments but occur in hushed tones and whispers that are sometimes engulfed in shame.

Directed by Sebastián Lelio, “The Wonder” is based on Emma Donoghue’s 2016 novel of the same name. Lelio, Donoghue and Alice Birch co-wrote the adapted screenplay for “The Wonder.” Although the movie is set in a rural Irish community in 1862, many of the themes in “The Wonder” transcend time and location and can apply to the past, present and future of any community where religion is the driving force of how people live. “The Wonder” had its world premiere at the 2022 Telluride Film Festival, and then had its Canadian premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

The beginning of “The Wonder” has an unusual location of a movie set of props where no one is present, but viewers can hear this voiceover saying: “This is the beginning of a film called ‘The Wonder.’ The people you are about to meet, the characters believe in their stories with complete devotion.” The camera then moves from the prop-filled set to a movie-set replication of the inside of train, as the story begins and transports viewers back to the year 1862.

On the train is the central protagonist of “The Wonder”: Lib Wright (played by Pugh), a Nightingale nurse from England, who is traveling by herself to the Midlands of Ireland. A devoutly Catholic community (which is unnamed in the movie) has hired Lib to watch over an 11-year-old girl named Anna O’Donnell (played by Kíla Lord Cassidy), who has been in the news for being a “miracle girl.” Anna has reportedly not eaten for the past four months and has no signs of starvation or any weight loss.

Lib is a compassionate and strong-willed nurse who is very skeptical that Anna hasn’t eaten any food for the past four months. When she arrives at the boarding house where she’ll be staying, she finds out that she has to share a room with a nun named Sister Michael (played by Josie Walker), who will be sharing the work shift duties of watching over Anna. When Lib expresses some disappointment that she will have to share a room with a nun, instead of having her own room, the boarding house’s matriarch Mrs. Maggie Ryan (played by Ruth Bradley) quips, “Welcome to Ireland.”

In her first meal at the Ryan family home, Lib is polite, observant and somewhat guarded about herself. The Ryan family consists of Maggie; her husband, Sean Ryan (played by David Wilmot), who works as a publican; and their five daughters (played by Darcey Campion, Abigail Coburn, Carla Hurley O’Dwyer, Juliette Hurley O’Dwyer and Carly Kane). Maggie tells Anna that the eldest four daughters are Sean’s daughters from his marriage to his first wife, who is now deceased. The youngest daughter is the biological child of Sean and Maggie.

Sean is on a five-man committee overseeing Lib and Sister Michael in the women’s job of observing Anna. The other men on the committee are Dr. McBrearty (played by Toby Jones), Father Thaddeus (played by Ciarán Hinds), landowner John Flynn (played by Brian F. O’Byrne), and Baronet Sir Ottway (played by Dermot Crowley). Dr. McBrearty is the most outspoken of the five men and is the one who’s most likely to give orders. It should come as no surprise that independent-minded Lib will clash with Dr. McBrearty the most.

In Lib’s first meeting in front of the committee, she is adamantly told that her job is to observe and talk to Anna and do nothing else. Lib is not allowed to give Anna any food, water or medical attention. Lib is concerned and uncomfortable with this command, but Dr. McBrearty reminds Lib that she’s being paid a considerable amount of money to do whatever the committee tells her to do. Lib is told that after 15 days, Lib and Sister Michael will be required to give separate testimonial reports about what they each believe is the cause of Anna’s seemingly miraculous condition.

When Lib meets the O’Donnell family, she finds a deeply religious clan who’s emotionally haunted by the death of Anna’s older brother Pat, who passed away nine months earlier. A recent photo of Pat in the family home shows that he was about 15 years old. Pat’s cause of death is never fully explained, but it’s described in the movie as being a sudden death.

Anna’s parents Rosaleen O’Donnell (played by Elaine Cassidy) and Malachy O’Donnell (played by Caolán Byrne) appear to be humble and unassuming. Rosaleen is very devoted and nurturing to Anna, whom Rosaleen calls “a jewel, a wonder.” However, Lib can’t help but notice that Anna’s parents accept money from people who want to see this “miracle girl” up close. Lib thinks this practice is distasteful, and she sometimes sends these visitors away because Lib is more concerened about Anna’s health.

The O’Donnells have a housekeeper named Kitty (played by Niamh Algar), who is in her 20s, and who has recently started learning how to read. Kitty might not have a lot of formal education, but she is very knowledgeable about her surroundings and the people in the community. Kitty is usually the one to tell Lib some of the personal backgrounds of the people in the community. In other words, Kitty knows a lot more than people think she does.

As for Anna, she’s a mostly quiet child who will answer any questions about her condition by saying that it’s all coming from God. When Lib asks Anna how she’s been able to not have any physical effects of not eating, Anna insists that she’s getting “manna from heaven.” Lib asks, “How does it feel?” Anna replies, “Full.” That’s not a good-enough answer for Lib, who is very doubtful that Anna has not eaten anything for the past four months. Lib is determined to find out why.

Someone else who wants to get to the bottom of this mystery is Will Byrne (played by Tom Burke), a reporter for the Daily Telegraph in England. Will is visiting this community to investigate, so it’s inevitable that Lib meets Will. Kitty tells Lib that Will grew up in the community but moved to England for his university education and to pursue a career in journalism. According to Kitty, Will’s parents were so heartbroken that he left Ireland and didn’t keep in touch with them, so his parents locked themselves in their home and starved themselves to death during the Great Famine.

The Great Famine, which devastated Ireland from 1845 to 1849, resulted in about 100,000 people dying from starvation and disease, stemming from blighted potato crops that also caused an economic crisis. The village where the O’Donnells live was hit hard by the Great Famine, which is why Anna’s seemingly miraculous starvation survival has a particularly emotional resonance in this religious community. The voiceover in the beginning of the movie comments: “The Great Famine casts a long shadow, and the Irish hold the English responsible for all that devastation.”

It doesn’t take long for Lib to become frustrated by her employers’ orders not to help Anna in any way. One night, when she’s off-duty and hanging out at Sean’s pub, she angrily asks him: “What kind of backwards village imports a professional nurse for something like this?” Sean responds with equal ire and says to Lib, “Prove it’s nonsense, and then fuck off [and go] home.”

There’s some underlying tension between the Irish villagers and anyone they consider to be an “outsider,” especially those from England. Will, who has now made England his home, experiences a certain amount of mistrust from the villagers too, because Will is considered somewhat of a “traitor” to abandon his Irish home to move to England. At first, Will and Lib seem to be in hostile competition to find out what’s going on with Anna, but Lib and Will eventually discover that they actually like each other, and they bond over their “outsider” status in this village.

And who exactly is Lib? She slowly reveals information about herself to certain people. Viewers find out that she served in the Crimean War. After the war, she was married to a man who disappeared and is presumed dead. And she is in deep emotional pain over the death of her baby daughter, who passed away at three weeks old. Lib later confides in Anna that Lib’s husband left Lib shortly after the death of their child.

When Lib is alone in her room, she takes out a towel that has a pair of baby booties and some liquid opium. She has a secret self-harming ritual of getting high by drinking the opium and pricking an index finger until she sees blood. She then sucks the blood so that no stains appear anywhere. When Anna shows Lib a bloody tooth that has fallen out of Anna’s mouth, Lib wonders if Anna is also engaging in self-harm.

Observant viewers will notice that it’s mentioned early on in the movie that Anna has stopped eating since her 11th birthday. “The Wonder” has recurring themes and references to being reborn and people going through different transitions of life and death. Certain people in the story are obsessed with who is going to heaven or hell and who might be stuck in purgatory.

Lib, whose birth name is Elizabeth, is asked by Anna if she likes to call herself by any other names, such as Elizabeth, Beth or Liz. Later, after Lib reveals something about herself, Lib will ask Anna if she could be another person, what her name would be. Anna says she would choose the name Nan.

“The Wonder” often reflects the slow pace of a rural village, so this movie might be too sluggish for some viewers. However, the performances of the cast members are admirable, while the mystery of Anna’s condition can keep viewers curious enough to find out what will happen next and how the movie will end. Pugh is a solid anchor for “The Wonder,” which is not a movie that has her flashiest, awards-bait role, but it’s testament to how talented she is that her portrayals of various characters seem so natural.

Even though Pugh performs the role of Lib in an authentic way, others part of the “The Wonder” have a few authenticity flaws and disappointments. For example, this community is ruled by the teachings of the Catholic Church, but “The Wonder” inexplicably does not show enough of Father Thaddeus’ influence on this community. Father Thaddeus is a mostly silent member of the committee that is supervising Lib and Sister Michael. It’s an unfortunate waste of the talent of Oscar-nominated actor Hinds.

Lib also does something very dangerous toward the end of “The Wonder.” And how it’s staged in the movie looks rushed and somewhat hard to believe. The movie doesn’t deviate from the book in what happens, but the cinematic version of this conclusion seems crammed quickly into a movie that took its time to linger on other less meaningful parts of the story. These flaws are minor and don’t ruin “The Wonder,” which is a distinctive psychological drama that effectively portrays the conflicts that can occur between comforts of religious faith and the discomforts of harsh reality.

Netflix released “The Wonder” in select U.S. cinemas on November 2, 2022. The movie premiered on Netflix on November 16, 2022.

Review: ‘God’s Creatures,’ starring Emily Watson and Paul Mescal

October 22, 2022

by Carla Hay

Paul Mescal and Emily Watson in “God’s Creatures” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“God’s Creatures”

Directed by Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed rural village in Ireland, the dramatic film “God’s Creatures” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class.

Culture Clash: A woman who manages her family’s oyster farm has to decide how loyal she wants to be to her son after he’s accused of raping one of her employees, and she tells a lie to create an alibi for him.

Culture Audience: “God’s Creatures” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of star Emily Watson and well-acted movies about moral dilemmas.

Aisling Franciosi in “God’s Creatures” (Photo courtesy of A24)

Despite its slow pacing, “God’s Creatures” is a very effective psychological drama that brings up ethical questions about family loyalty and dealing with sexual assault. Emily Watson gives an emotionally stirring performance as a conflicted mother who has to reckon with her own responsibility in possibly covering up a serious crime. It’s a movie that shows why denial can be just as toxic as a criminal act.

Directed by Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer, “God’s Creatures” (written by Shane Crowley) was filmed on location in County Donegal, Ireland. It’s here, in an unnamed fishing village, that Aileen O’Hara (played by Watson) thinks she’s living an uncomplicated life that revolves around her work and her family. Aileen has been happily married to her husband Con (played by Declan Conlon) for about 35 years. Together, they own an oyster farm, where Aileen works as a manager of the oyster processing plant. Con mainly supervises the oyster fishermen.

Aileen and Con have two children: Erin O’Sullivan (played by Toni O’Rourke) and Brian O’Hara (played by Paul Mescal), who are opposites in many ways. Erin, who has lived in the village her entire life, is in her 30s and is a single mother to an infant son. Brian, who is in his mid-to-late 20s, is a freewheeling bachelor with no children. For the past seven years, Brian lived in Australia and had stopped contacting his family. Near the beginning of the movie, Brian suddenly shows up in the village and expects to pick up right where he left off before he moved away to Australia.

The father of Erin’s baby is not in Erin’s life and won’t be involved in raising the child. Erin knows that many people in the community are religious and politically conservative. And therefore, she’s aware that being a single mother who is not widowed carries a certain stigma. Based on the fact that Erin has a different last name from her parents, it’s implied that she’s divorced. It’s not clear if her ex-husband is the father of her child or not, but Erin has told her family that the father of her child didn’t even know she was pregnant and therefore doesn’t know the child exists.

Brian is a prodigal son who was known as a troublemaker before he moved away to Australia. He is welcomed back with open arms by Aileen, who is very happy to see him. Con and Erin are much more wary and skeptical of Brian’s sudden reappearance. It’s open to interpretation why Brian suddenly wanted to move back to this small village. Was he running home to his family or running away from something?

Brian won’t really say why he suddenly decided to move back to his hometown without giving his family any advance notice. His family doesn’t press the issue, and he lives in Aileen and Con’s home. Brian is also quickly given a job as a fisherman in the family business. Although the O’Hara family is responsible for employing about 40 to 50 people in the village, the family lives modestly but is aware that the family has a certain amount of power in this community.

Con’s elderly father Paddy O’Hara (played by Lalor Roddy) also lives on the family property. Paddy, who is mute and might have dementia, passed on the family’s oyster business to Con, who promised Paddy that he would keep the business going. In his current mental state, Paddy is mostly unresponsive when people try to talk to him.

However, when Brian comes back to live in the family home, Paddy seems to light up when he’s around Brian. Brian is attentive to Paddy and helps take care of him like a dutiful and compassionate grandson. At one point, Brian is able to coax Paddy out of Paddy’s muteness, by getting Paddy to sing out loud.

It becomes obvious early on in the story that Aileen favors Brian over Erin. Brian has a very charismatic side to him where he shows that he can be outgoing and charming. He’s a “mama’s boy” who knows that Aileen is more likely than Con to forgive or overlook Brian’s flaws and misdeeds. As far as Aileen is concerned, whatever wrongdoings that Brian committed in the past, they should stay in the past. Aileen thinks Brian deserves a chance to prove that he’s turned his life around.

The opening scene of “God’s Creatures” is a subtle indication of how this village is rooted in traditions and superstitions. A fisherman named Mark Fitz, who worked for the O’Hara family, has been found dead in the sea, and his body has been taken out of the water. He drowned because he didn’t know how to swim. His mother Mary Fitz (played by Marion O’Dwyer) works in the processing plant. This drowning happened before Brian came back to the village to live.

The villagers traditionally don’t want their fishermen to know how to swim, so that if one of them is drowning, other people won’t be responsible for jumping in the water to save the drowning person. No one really questions this tradition, which is an indication that people in the community are willing to sacrifice others for a “survival of the fittest” mentality. As an example of Erin’s willingness to be a nonconformist in this tight-knit village, she tells her family that she’s going to teach her son how to swim.

One of Erin’s closest friends is Sarah Murphy (played by Aisling Franciosi), who works at the O’Hara family’s oyster processing plant. Like many people in the village, Sarah has lived there her entire life. Sarah, who is closer in age to Brian than she is to Erin, is a former schoolmate of Brian’s. She is trapped in an unhappy and abusive marriage to Francie D’Arcy (played by Brendan McCormack), who is very controlling and often accuses her of being unfaithful to him. Sarah having a different last name from her husband is an indication that she has an independent streak.

Sarah confides in Erin that due to her arguments with Francie, “I’ve been back in my parents’ house for a couple of nights. Time puts it all into perspective very quickly. He was brutal with his words. Still, though, he’s just like anyone else, though. We’re all God’s creatures in the dark.”

One night, Brian is hanging out at a local pub owned by a man named Dan Nell (played by Enda Oates), who is also the chief bartender. Sarah is there too, and Brian strikes up a flirtatious conversation with her. “I can’t believe you’re still here, to be honest,” Brian tells Sarah. “I thought you’d long abandon this place.”

Sarah replies, “Everything I need was here. I didn’t have to go looking for it.” Brian says, “Likewise.” This statement from Brian seems to be not very honest, since he obviously was looking for something somewhere else, by living in Australia for years and deliberately not contacting his family.

Brian then begins to reminisce about the good times that he and Sarah used to have when they were teenagers. Sarah curtly says about this reminsicing, “I wouldn’t get too hung up on it if I were you.” It’s implied that Brian has been attracted to Sarah for years. And now that he knows she’s in a troubled marriage, he wants to know if he has a chance with her. However, Sarah quickly shuts down this possibility.

About one week after this encounter, the O’Hara family business gets some bad news: Fungus has been found in some of the harvested oysters, so the fishing operations are temporarily halted. Around the same time, Sarah has been acting strangely on the job. On day, she faints near one of the conveyor belts, and when Aileen goes over to help her, Sarah says to her in a hostile manner: “Don’t touch me!”

Aileen will soon find out why Sarah is acting this way. One night, a garda named Mike (played by Andrew Bennett) visits the O’Hara family home to tell Aileen that a woman (whose name he won’t disclose) has accused Brian of raping her the week before. Brian has denied it and says that on the night in question of the alleged rape, he was at home all night, and Aileen can vouch for him. Mike asks Aileen if Brian’s alibi is true, and Aileen automatically says yes.

However, later when Aileen confronts Brian about where he was that night, he admits he was out in Dan Nell’s pub, where his accuser says that they were at, but that he had no sexual contact with her. Brian vigorously tells Aileen that he didn’t sexually assault anyone. It isn’t long before Aileen finds out that Sarah is Brian’s accuser.

Aileen believes Brian, so she feels resentment toward Sarah and thinks that Sarah is trying to ruin Brian’s life. Sarah feels resentment toward Aileen, because she thinks that Aileen is willfully covering up for Brian. Meanwhile, Erin is inclined to believe Sarah and doesn’t like it that Aileen refuses to hear Sarah’s side of the story. Needless to say, the tension builds when an investigation yields a result that is bound to make one side very unhappy.

“God’s Creatures” is a “slow burn” story where the last third of the movie is the best part. As soon as Aileen finds out that Brian doesn’t have an alibi for the period of time that he was accused of raping Sarah, the seeds of doubt have been planted in Aileen’s mind, but she tries to repress this doubt at all costs. Erin, who always felt like Aileen unfairly favored Brian over Erin, becomes increasingly infuriated with Aileen for what Erin thinks is misguided parental protection. Con stays out of this family conflict by not taking either side.

Meanwhile, Brian gets the support from many people in the community who think of him as a reformed “good guy,” and they want the rape accusation to go away. As for Sarah, coming forward with this rape allegation has made life much worse for her at her home and at work. She gets bullied and shamed by certain members of the community who think that she’s lying.

“God’s Creatures” is a scathing and often-melancholy rumination of how society often deals with sexual assault—a crime that is typically very hard to prove because there are usually only two witnesses: the accuser and the accused. If the accused admits to having sexual contact with the accuser, the accused usually says that this sexual contact was consensual. Sarah is blamed by some people for waiting a week to come forward with her accusation. It’s a common reaction from people who don’t know or don’t care that when an accuser chooses to comes forward is not proof of an accuser’s honesty or dishonesty about the allegation.

Watson gives a very nuanced performance as Aileen, who thinks of herself as a moral and upstanding person, but Aileen starts to question what kind of person she is the more she begins to doubt that Brian is telling the truth. Mescal probably has the hardest role to play, since the Brian character is supposed to keep viewers guessing up to a certain point if he’s a “good guy” or not. Franciosi has some standout moments in her role as Sarah, who finds out quickly that her entire reputation can change once she’s labeled a rape accuser.

The rape accusation causes a rift in the O’Hara family, as Erin makes it clear that she’s on Sarah’s side. However, the movie also shows how the accusation affects the entire community, not just the O’Hara family and Sarah. “God’s Creatures” is a depiction of how society can be complicit in enabling harm. And in this community, where the attitude is “survival of the fittest,” justice and peace often can’t be found in a court of law.

A24 released “God’s Creatures” in select U.S. cinemas on September 30, 2022.

Review: ‘The Banshees of Inisherin,’ starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson

October 21, 2022

by Carla Hay

Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell in “The Banshees of Inisherin” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

“The Banshees of Inisherin”

Directed by Martin McDonagh

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1923, on the fictional Irish island of Inisherin, the comedy/drama film “The Banshees of Inisherin” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class.

Culture Clash: Two men who have been best friends—a farmer in his 40s and a musician in his 60s—have their emotional stability tested when the musician abruptly ends the friendship and goes to extreme lengths to get his former friend to stop communicating with him.

Culture Audience: “The Banshees of Inisherin” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson; filmmaker Martin McDonagh; and movies that make darkly comedic and emotionally incisive commentaries about the highs and lows of human nature.

Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan in “The Banshees of Inisherin” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

“The Banshees of Inisherin” offers a bittersweet exploration of the heartbreak, loneliness, hope, and bizarre unpredictability of life with two estranged friends in a rural Irish town. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson give magnetic performances as two former friends who want very different things in existing together in this small, tight-knit and gossipy community. This comedy/drama movie reunites Farrell, Gleeson, and writer/director Martin McDonagh, who previously worked together on the 2008 assassin dramedy “In Bruges,” a very different movie from “The Banshees of Inisherin.”

McDonagh should be given a lot of credit for not wanting to copy “In Bruges” in this reteaming with the dynamic duo of Farrell and Gleeson, who played bickering hit men in the movie, which was set in Bruges, Belgium, in late 2000s. “In Bruges” had a madcap energy and some wacky plot developments that bordered on the absurd. “The Banshees of Inisherin” is often bleak, dreary and carries the emotional weight of characters wallowing in personal despair, but not having the words or resources to cope well with their personal problems. “The Banshees of Inisherin” had its world premiere at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival, where Farrell won the award for Best Actor, and McDonagh won the prize for Best Screenplay.

Set in 1925 on the fictional island of Inisherin (off of the coast of Ireland), “The Banshees of Inisherin” shows how the unraveling of a friendship spirals out of control into madness and tragedy. The movie is about more than some of the outlandish things that happen during the course of the story. It’s also about the mundanity of being stuck and stifled by a life of drudgery and limited options. It’s also about the need for people to feel loved and accepted by those whom they love and accept.

Viewers never get to see how the friendship developed between longtime Inisherin residents Pádraic Súilleabháin (played by Farrell) and Colm Doherty (played by Gleeson), because “The Banshees of Inisherin” begins on the day that Pádraic finds out that Colm not only wants to end the friendship, but Colm also wants Pádraic to stop communicating with him. Pádraic is a farmer in his 40s. Colm is a musician in his 60s. Both are bachelors with no children. Up until their estrangement, they were constant companions.

It’s unknown if Colm ever got married, but it’s made clear that Pádraic has never been married and is generally inexperienced and uninterested about a lot of things outside of Inisherin and his farm life. The movie doesn’t go into details about their sexualities or their love lives, but it’s implied that Colm and Pádraic have an older brother/younger brother type of relationship.

Somehow, their friendship became the center of their social lives. Colm lives alone, while Pádraic lives with his sister Siobhan Súilleabháin (played by Kerry Condon), who is a never-married bachelorette in her 40s with no children. Siobhan and Colm are the most important people in Pádraic’s life. Pádraic and Siobhan, whose parents died seven years earlier, are the only Súilleabháin family members who live on the island of Inisherin.

Pádraic and Colm each has a beloved pet that plays a pivotal role in the story. Padraic’s favorite animal on the farm is a miniature donkey named Jenny, whom he treats like a child. (Jenny has some adorable animal scenes in the movie.) Pádraic and Siobhan sometimes argue because Pádraic wants to let Jenny stay in their house, while Siobhan refuses and insists that Jenny stay in the area where the rest of the farm animals are kept. Colm’s only pet is his devoted male Border Collie named Sammy, who is Colm’s only constant companion in the story.

Pádraic is an uncomplicated person who places a high value on honesty and being nice to other people. He is the type of person who will say exactly what he’s thinking, even if it comes out in a way that might be awkward or not very tactful. Colm is much more complicated and someone who doesn’t always say what he’s thinking. Viewers will soon see that Colm has a dark side and how disturbed that dark side can be.

The unnamed rural town where Colm and Pádraic live has a very small population, so everyone in the community seems to know each other. (“The Banshees of Inisherin” was actually filmed in Inishmore and Achill Island in Ireland.) It’s the type of working-class town where no one can afford to have a car, so the usual form of vehicle transportation is a wheel cart.

The opening scene shows Pádraic walking to Colm’s house to meet him for their usual 2 p.m. visit to the local pub, which is called J.J. Devine Public House. Pádraic peeks in the front window and sees that Colm is sitting on a chair, smoking a cigarette, and looking lost in his thoughts. Pádraic taps on the window and calls out Colm’s name loud enough for Colm to hear, but Colm acts like he doesn’t hear anything and stares straight ahead.

Pádraic assumes that his friend will join him in the pub later, so he goes to the pub by himself. When Pádraic arrives, the pub’s owner/bartender Jonjo Devine (played by Pat Shortt) immediately asks Pádraic where Colm is, because Jonjo is so accustomed to seeing Pádraic and Colm together. “Are you rowing [arguing]?” Jonjo asks Pádraic, who says no. Pádraic tells Jonjo about Colm’s strange non-reaction when Pádraic went to visit him.

Colm is a no-show for their usual pub meet-up. A confused Pádraic goes home and tells Siobhan, who asks the same question: “Are you rowing?” Pádraic says no, and he’s not aware of anything that could’ve happened that would cause Colm to avoid him. Pádraic later goes back to the pub, where he sees Colm acting friendly and in good spirits with Jonjo and some of the customers.

When Colm sees Pádraic, the smile leaves Colm’s face, and Colm looks like he’s just seen someone whom he dislikes immensely. Pádraic, who is completely baffled, approaches Colm and asks him what’s going on and why Colm is acting this way. Pádraic also says that he’s sorry if he did anything to offend Colm. And that’s when Colm bluntly tells Pádraic that he doesn’t want to be Pádraic’s friend anymore because Colm thinks Pádraic is too dull and he’s become completely bored with their friendship. Colm also says that he doesn’t want Pádraic to talk to him anymore.

Colm, who is a fiddler, goes on to say that he’s getting old and wants to write great musical pieces before he dies. He cruelly tells Pádraic that Pádraic just drains time and energy from Colm, who wants to put that time and energy into writing music. Colm tells Pádraic that he’s “trying not to listen to the dull things you have to say.” Colm adds that he “has time not for aimless chatting but normal chatting.”

As an example of something that Pádraic does that Colm says is annoying, Colm mentions a recent conversation where Pádraic talked to Colm for two hours about the things he found in the feces of Pádraic’s donkey. Pádraic corrects Colm and said that the conversation about feces was actually about a pony, not a donkey. It’s an example of some of the dark comedy in this movie.

Pádraic is in shock and denial over this abrupt end to this friendship. The next day, he wakes up and sees on his calender that the day that Colm told him that their friendship was over also happened to be April Fool’s Day. Pádraic goes back to the pub and talks to Colm again, because he thinks that the conversation they had the night before was all a big April Fool’s Day joke. But to Pádraic’s dismay, Colm tells him in no uncertain terms that it’s not a joke.

And then, Colm makes this ominous threat: If Pádraic communicates with Colm again, Colm will cut off one of Colm’s own fingers every time it happens. It’s a threat that several people in the pub hear. And since this is a small town, word quickly spreads in the community about the alarming way that Colm wants to keep Pádraic out of Colm’s life.

Pádraic is naturally very distressed by this turn of events. He turns to Siobhan for emotional support, and she has to constantly deny it when Pádraic asks her if he’s dimwitted and dull. “You’re nice!” she finally yells in frustration. “Move on!” But Pádraic can’t move on. He’s still mystified over why Colm no longer wants to be his friend, and he wants them to be friends again.

Pádraic and Siobhan eventually come to the conclusion that Colm might be depressed. However, Pádraic being Pádraic, his nature is to want to be the one to help lift Colm out of Colm’s apparent depression. And the only way Pádraic knows how to do that is to talk to Colm.

While Pádraic is still reeling from being rejected by his best friend, a local guy in his 20s named Dominic Kearney (played by Barry Keoghan) has been tagging along with Pádraic very chance that he can get. Dominic, who appears to have learning disabilities, is a social outcast in this community. Padraic is the person in the community who is the kindest to Dominic. Just like Pádraic looks up to Colm like an older brother, Dominic seems to have a similar admiration for Pádraic.

Dominic also wants to spend a lot of time with Pádraic because Dominic comes from a very abusive home. It’s revealed fairly early on in the movie that Dominic’s widowed, alcoholic father Peadar Kearney (played by Gary Lydon) physically and emotionally abuses Dominic. The abuse goes beyond beatings and includes sexual abuse.

Peader happens to be the only police officer that this very small town has, so he gets away with these crimes. Peader also dislikes Pádraic and Siobhan, for past reasons that aren’t fully explained. However, it probably has a lot to do with the fact that Pádraic knows all about the abuse, and Dominic seems to want to be a part of the Súilleabháin more than Dominic wants to be part of his own family. The animosity between Peader and Pádraic increases when Peader and Colm start to become friendlier with each other after Colm ends his friendship with Pádraic.

Meanwhile, Dominic has a crush on Siobhan, but because he’s socially awkward, he doesn’t quite know how to express his feelings. Pádraic is too absorbed with trying to mend his friendship with Colm, so Pádraic doesn’t notice the significance of why Dominic asks him about Siobhan’s dating history and what kind of men Siobhan tends to like. Pádraic isn’t very helpful and gives vague answers. Just like her brother, Siobhan doesn’t have an active love life.

One evening, Dominic is invited over for dinner at Pádraic and Siobhan’s home. When Dominic asks Siobhan why she’s never been married, she gets angry and offended and tells him that it’s none of his business. She’s so insulted by this question, Siobhan tells Dominic to leave. Siobhan also doesn’t pick up on Dominic’s infatuation with her, so she doesn’t understand that Dominic asked that question as a way to flirt with her.

Some other characters in the movie have supporting roles as people who know a lot of the personal business of the people in this community. Mrs. McCormick (played by Sheila Flitton), an elderly woman who is an occasional visitor to the Súilleabháin home, looks and acts like someone who knows a lot of community secrets. Mrs. Reardon (played by Bríd Ní Neachtain), a middle-aged woman who runs the local convenience store/post office, is a very nosy gossip and doesn’t hestitate to open other people’s mail, in order to snoop. And then there’s the obligatory Catholic priest (played by David Pearse), a man in his late 20s or early 30s, who doesn’t have a name in the movie, but he hears people’s confessions.

The personal turmoil between Pádraic and Colm escalates when Pádraic just can’t accept that Colm wants Pádraic to leave Colm alone. Pádraic’s desperation is also affected when Siobhan gets a job offer to work at a library on the mainland of Ireland. The movie shows whether or not she takes that offer. It’s also shown if Colm follows through on his threat to cut off any of his own fingers after Pádraic continues to contact Colm.

“The Banshees of Inisherin” is not a big, flashy movie with elaborate scenes of drama. It’s a movie that authentically shows the quiet desperation that people feel but they suppress, in order not to be labeled as unstable, troublemakers or whiners. Pádraic shows a lot of emotional vulnerability that makes some members of the community more uncomfortable than Colm’s declaration of violent self-harm. It’s the movie’s way of showing how unnecessary violence is often more accepted in society as a way to cope with problems, rather than expressing emotional vulnerability.

Of course, in a movie about former friends who end up feuding with each other, there are some showdown scenes that are among the best in the movie. However, there are scenes where Pádraic or Colm is alone in a room, and those scenes are just as powerful. Farrell and Gleason handle their respective characters with a level of authenticity that resonates, even when some unhinged things start to happen. Condon and Keoghan are also quite good in their roles, although the characters of Siobhan and Dominic are ultimately overshadowed by what goes on between Pádraic and Colm.

McDonagh’s movies and plays often show human nature at its worst and its best. His movies and plays also depict aspects of life that can be depressing or joyful. It’s a dichotomous balance that isn’t easy to achieve, but McDonagh’s sharp talent in writing and directing, as well as his ability to make great decisions with a top-notch cast, result in “The Banshees of Inisherin” being a sometimes uncomfortable but definitely a memorable and emotionally moving ride.

Searchlight Pictures released “The Banshees of Inisherin” in select U.S. cinemas on October 21, 2022. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on December 13, 2022, and on Blu-ray and DVD on December 20, 2022.

Review: ‘The Cellar’ (2022), starring Elisha Cuthbert, Eoin Macken, Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady and Abby Fitz

March 14, 2022

by Carla Hay

Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady and Elisha Cuthbert in “The Cellar” (Photo by Martin Maguire/RLJE Films/Shudder)

“The Cellar” (2022)

Directed by Brendan Muldowney

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ireland, the horror film “The Cellar” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A married couple and their two children move into a house that has a history of being haunted and where previous residents have mysteriously disappeared. 

Culture Audience: “The Cellar” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching formulaic horror movies that don’t do anything truly unique.

Eoin Macken and Abby Fitz in “The Cellar” (Photo by Martin Maguire/RLJE Films/Shudder)

“The Cellar” succeeds in creating a spooky atmosphere, but it fails to rise above countless other haunted house stories, because of the movie’s weak screenplay, mediocre acting and dull pacing. “The Cellar” is too generic to be a memorable horror film. There are so many overused concepts in “The Cellar” that are in better haunted house movies, you can really do a checklist of all the ideas that are recycled in “The Cellar.”

Written and directed by Brendan Muldowney, “The Cellar” is based on his short film “The Ten Steps.” It’s yet another story about a family moving into a house with very dark secrets that the family won’t discover until it’s too late. And the people living in the house stay much longer than most people would in real life, just so the terror in the movie can be stretched out in repetitive scenes. “The Cellar” had its world premiere on the same date at the 2022 editions of the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival and FrightFest Glasgow.

The family at the center of “The Cellar” are spouses Keira Woods (played by Elisha Cuthbert) and Brian Woods (played by Eoin Macken) and their children Ellie Woods (played by Abby Fitz) and Steven Woods (played by Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady). Ellie, who’s about 16 or 17 years old, is a stereotypical pouty teen. Her idea of rebelling is reading books on anarchy and getting an ankle tattoo of the anarchy symbol. Steven, who’s about 10 or 11 years old, is a stereotypical adorable tyke with the expected wide-eyed, open-mouthed, shocked reactions when the terror in the house begins to happen.

The Woods family’s new home is a drab and shabby mansion in an unnamed city in Ireland. (The movie was actually filmed on location in Roscommon, Ireland.) And as haunted houses typically are in horror movies, this house is in an isolated wooded area. The family members are all natives of Ireland, except for Keira, who’s either Canadian or American. (Cuthbert is Canadian in real life.)

“The Cellar” opens with the Woods family’s first day and night in the house. Brian and Steven are already there, while Keira and Ellie arrive separately by car. Ellie is already sulking because she didn’t want to move away from her friends. Upon seeing the house for the first time, Ellie says, “Holy shit. It’s so ugly!”

Why is this the first time that Ellie is seeing this house? It’s because Brian and Keira bought the house at an extremely low price at an auction. And they later find out the hard way that this bargain was too good to be true. And yes, “The Cellar” is another haunted house movie where the new residents didn’t bother to find out any background information about the house before buying it. The house still has furnishings and decorations left behind by the previous owner.

“The Cellar” doesn’t waste any time in showing that the house’s cellar is a place where sinister things happen. Within minutes of being in the house for the first time, Ellie goes in the cellar and declares to Keira, who’s near the door: “It’s filthy!” Keira replies, “I like to think of it as character.” And sure enough, Ellie mysteriously gets locked in the cellar, she freaks out, and then manages to escape. “I’m not staying in this house!” Ellie wails.

But of course, Ellie does stay in the house. After all, where else is she going to go in a hackneyed horror movie? All of the house’s rooms are predictably dark, as if everyone who’s lived there couldn’t be bothered to get a proper lamp or lighting that can illuminate more than certain corners of a room.

Ellie gets even more irritated with her parents when she finds out she has to look after Steven like a babysitter on their first night in the house. That’s because Keira and Brian, who are independent TV producers, have to work late because of an important pitch meeting related to their business. Keira tells Ellie that they need to sell this pitch in order for the family to financially survive.

Meanwhile, back in the mansion that doesn’t know the meaning of full-wattage light bulbs, Ellie is bitterly complaining to her boyfriend on the phone about how she much she dislikes her new home and how it’s unfair that she and Brian have to be in this creepy house alone on their first night there. The boyfriend listens to Ellie gripe about how much she misses him and their friends, and he suggests that he stay with her, even though Ellie’s parents wouldn’t let her do that. Ellie tells him why her parents are working late and says, “I hope they go bust, and we have to sell this house!”

Keira and Brian are independent TV producers who are trying to launch a reality show geared to teenagers called “Natural Selection,” where a young actress will pretend to be a popular vlogger. The pitch meeting takes place in a darkly lit conference room (everything in this movie is darkly lit or in tones of gray), where Keira and Brian are trying to sell this show to TV executives. There are vague mentions about viewer voting based on the physical appearances of the reality show’s cast members. It sounds like a horrible idea.

While Keira and Brian are in this meeting, the electricity suddenly goes out in their house. And what a coincidence: The circuit breaker is in the cellar. Guess who has to be the one to go back to the dreaded cellar to figure out what’s going on with the circuit breaker? Ellie calls Keira to tell her about this electricty outage. Keira excuses herself from the meeting and tells Ellie that she has to be the one to fix the electricity problem by finding the circuit breaker.

Ellie is in a near-panic because she’s scared and reluctant to go back to the cellar. During this phone conversation, Keira instructs Ellie on how to find the circuit breaker in the cellar. And because this movie is filled with as many horror clichés as possible, Ellie is holding a lit candle in the cellar, instead of a more practical flashlight or a smartphone light.

Keira guides Ellie by telling her how many steps she needs to take to get to the circuit breaker. To help calm down Ellie, Keira tells Ellie to count out loud how many steps she’s taking for this walkthrough. During this counting out loud, the phone disconnects. Keira calls back and gets no answer. And when Keira and Brian get home, they find out to their shock that Ellie has disappeared.

A police investigator named Detective Brophy (played by Andrew Bennett) is called to the scene. Keira and Brian aren’t completely alarmed because they tell the detective that Ellie has run away before, and she’ll probably come back in a few days. A small search team looks though the woods to no avail. Keira puts up some missing-person flyers around the area. Meanwhile, “The Cellar” is so poorly written, it never shows Keira or Brian contacting any of Ellie’s friends to find out if these friends have seen her, which would be one of the first things that parents of a missing child would do.

The rest of “The Cellar” gets a bit monotonous, as Keira discovers strange symbols in the house and tries to find out what they all mean. Eventually, the search for Ellie becomes less of a priority in the movie than Keira playing detective to find out the history of the house and to get more information about the previous residents. Ellie contacts the auction manager, who says that the house was previously owned by an elderly woman whom he never met because her attorney was his main contact for the auction.

Because clues are easily given to Keira throughout the movie, she notices that the house has a portrait painting of a university mathematician named John Fetherston, the deceased patriarch of the family that previously lived there. She goes on a quest to find out this family’s background. The answers she gets are utterly predictable.

During this investigation that takes up a lot of Keira’s time, the movie never bothers again to address Keira and Brian’s job predicament that has made them financially desperate. As the days go by, and Ellie remains missing, these parents of a missing child don’t have realistic conversations about this family crisis of a child’s disappearance. It’s why “The Cellar” mishandles the separate terror of a family who has a missing child.

Instead, the movie puts more emphasis on the banal horror trope of a woman being perceived as mentally ill if she suspects what’s going on has to do with the supernatural. Brian questions Keira’s mental health when she divulges some of her theories about why the house might be haunted. Keira also begins to believe that Ellie didn’t run away but that Ellie was abducted—and not necessarily by a human being.

Meanwhile, more stereotypical haunted house hijinks ensue. Doors mysteriously open on their own. Objects get moved with no explanation. Steven gets locked in a room on one occasion, even though no one else appears to be there. The house’s electricity malfunctions again. It all just leads to a conclusion that would only be surprising to people who fell asleep during the movie’s boring middle section. The movie’s last scene is actually one of the few highlights of “The Cellar,” but it’s too little, too late.

One of the more commendable aspects of “The Cellar” is composer Stephen McKeon’s effectively haunting score. This music is sometimes used in over-the-top ways, but it does bring a consistent level of invoking the right moods for each scene. The production design for “The Cellar” is also noteworthy, although nothing in this movie is going to win any awards. The movie’s visual effects are adequate and not gruesome, for viewers who don’t like seeing bloody gore. Still, most of the movie’s “jump scares” just aren’t very scary, and they lack originality.

Unfortunately, the quality of “The Cellar” is lowered by Cuthbert’s stiff performance. She’s never really believable as a mother who’s frantically worried about her missing child. And in scenes where she should be conveying more emotion, Cuthbert just delivers her lines flatly. All the other cast members are in underwritten and underdeveloped roles, with nothing particularly special about their acting. “The Cellar” isn’t the worst horror movie ever, but it doesn’t have the spark, personality or creative imagination to make it stand out from other horror movies with the same ideas.

RLJE Films will release “The Cellar” in select U.S. cinemas on April 15, 2022, the same date that the movie premieres on Shudder.

Review: ‘Finding You’ (2021), starring Rose Reid, Jedidiah Goodacre, Katherine McNamara, Patrick Bergin, Tom Everett Scott and Vanessa Redgrave

May 28, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jedidiah Goodacre and Rose Reid in “Finding You” (Photo by Anthony Courtney/Roadside Attractions)

“Finding You” (2021)

Directed by Brian Baugh

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ireland and briefly in New York City, the romantic drama “Finding You” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with one African American) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An aspiring professional violinist and an action movie star, who are both American, meet on an airplane flying to Ireland, and she ends up becoming his love interest and temporary assistant while he films a movie in Ireland and has an on-again, off-again relationship with a co-star.

Culture Audience: “Finding You” will appeal mainly to people who like watching predictable and banal romantic dramas with absolutely nothing imaginatively creative about the story.

Vanessa Redgrave, Rose Reid and Jedidiah Goodacre in “Finding You” (Photo by Anthony Courtney/Roadside Attractions)

“Finding You” was written and directed by Brian Baugh, but the entire movie looks like it came from the mind of a naïve teenager who’s read too many hack romance novels. The movie is based on Jenny B. Jones’ faith-based young adult 2011 novel “There’ll You Find Me,” which was much more about coping with grief than being a sudsy and trite romance. There isn’t one single minute of “Finding You” that isn’t predictable and/or corny.

And that’s okay for a romantic movie, if the characters and storyline are charming enough and the movie has great dialogue, engaging acting and intriguing situations. However, in “Finding You,” the would-be couple basically look and talk like Ken and Barbie dolls, while they and the other characters in the story try and act like this “fairtayle romance” wasn’t the result of the guy cheating on his girlfriend with the story’s “heroine.”

This infidelity is glossed over in a very hypocritical way in this preachy and maudlin story, which tries to make the female protagonist look like a noble do-gooder, even though she’s an active and knowing participant in this infidelity. Meanwhile, she meddles in other people’s lives in the most condescending manner, as if she’s a paragon of virtue and morality. But because this story is based on the unrealistic fantasy that things always work out for pretty protagonists in the end, it all adds up to predictable junk.

“Finding You” begins with protagonist Finley Sinclair (played by Rose Reid), who lives in New York City, feeling defeated because she failed in her audition to get into an elite music conservatory. Finley plays classical violin and she’s supposed to be about 18 or 19 years old, but all the actors in “Finding You” who are supposed to be in that age group look like they’re way past their teen years. Finley is feeling sad over being rejected by the school, but she plans to audition again in three months for the school’s next semester.

To help Finley get over her unhappiness, Finley’s mother Jennifer Sinclair (played by Judith Hoag) suggests that Finley do what Finley’s brother Alex did years ago: Spend a semester studying in Ireland. And just like that, Finley is on a plane to Ireland, where she will be staying in a small town that’s not named in the film. The student application process sure works fast in this movie for Finley to get accepted into the foreign exchange student program so quickly.

On the plane, something occurs that happens only in a movie: A flight attendant chooses Finley, out of all the people on the plane, to get a free upgrade to the first-class section, just because there’s an empty seat, and the flight attendant thought that Finley might like to sit there. Of course, Finley says yes. And, of course, some viewers will roll their eyes at this “too good to be true” moment.

Finley dozes off in this first-class seat. And when she wakes up, she’s startled when she notices that her head had been accidentally resting on the shoulder of a good-looking stranger sitting next to her who wasn’t there when she first sat down. You know where this is going to go, of course. The man sitting next to her is about her age. And he happens to be a movie star. And this is the scene where there might as well be a big sign flashing, “Meet Cute Moment Alert!”

This movie star is an American named Beckett Rush (played by Jedidiah Goodacre), and he’s slightly amused by Finley being embarrassed at waking up with her head on his shoulder. She makes a sincere apology, but Beckett thinks that she’s one of his star-struck fans who deliberately planned to sit next to him on this plane. Beckett tells Finley that he doesn’t want to call attention to himself, so he tells her to wait until the plane lands before he can give her an autograph or photo.

Finley is mildly insulted by his arrogance, because she doesn’t really know or care about who Beckett is and why he’s famous. Beckett smirks and thinks that she’s lying. He can’t believe that she doesn’t know who he is. He mentions that he’s going to Ireland to film a movie, while Finley says she’s going to Ireland as a visiting student. The cliché banter continues. And then Beckett says one of the movie’s many cringeworthy lines: “You know, you look really beautiful when you admit that you’re wrong.”

On the plane, Finley just happens to be reading a celebrity gossip magazine and is flipping through it when she sees a photo spread of Beckett partying in a hotel suite, in various states of undress. It looks like the type of photos that someone at the party sold to the magazine. Finley looks at the photo spread with some disapproval. Beckett frowns and says, “You know, I didn’t like that article either.”

The plane lands in Ireland. Finley and Beckett go their separate ways—but not really, because you know they’re going to see each other again in the most sickeningly cute coincidence possible. Before she leaves for the host family home where she’ll be staying, Finley notices a gaggle of gushing young female fans surrounding Beckett at the airport, just in case it wasn’t immediately clear to everyone that Beckett is a teen idol.

The Irish family who’s hosting Finley is the same family who hosted her brother Alex when he studied in Ireland for a semester, about six or seven years earlier. The family has recently turned their home into a bed-and-breakfast lodging, and they’re desperate to get good reviews. The host family consists of married couple Sean Callaghan (played by Ciaran McMahon) and Nora Callaghan (played by Fiona Bell) and their teenage daughter Emma Callaghan (played by Saoirse-Monica Jackson), who is (to no one’s surprise) a huge fan of Beckett Rush.

How much does Emma adore Beckett? She has photos and posters of him plastered all over her bedroom walls. And only photos and posters of Beckett. She doesn’t just adore him. She’s obsessed. You can imagine how Emma (who’s about 15 or 16) reacts when she finds out who’s staying in her parents’ bed-and-breakfast home.

Finley finds out when Sean and Nora have a messy mishap in the kitchen while they’re making breakfast for their very special guest. Sean and Nora don’t want their guest to see them with their stained and disheveled clothes, and they don’t want to delay serving him by changing off into clean clothes. And so, they ask Finley to serve this “mystery guest” his breakfast.

The guest is Beckett, of course. And when Finley and Beckett see each other again, they have that “What are you doing here?” moment before Beckett assumes that Finley stalked him there. She denies it and asks Beckett what he’s doing at a modest bed-and-breakfast place instead of staying at a fancy hotel. Beckett says it’s because he’s trying to avoid fans and paparazzi, and no one would suspect him of staying at this bed-and-breakfast place.

Emma practically faints when she sees Beckett. Sean and Nora tell Emma and Finley to keep it a secret that Beckett is staying there. Sean and Nora want Beckett to give good word-of-mouth reviews to the bed-and-breakfast, and they think that will only happen if they protect Beckett’s privacy. But, of course, Emma can’t keep it a secret, and she tells a few of her friends at her high school.

Finley tries to act like she’s not impressed by Beckett, and she says she doesn’t trust Beckett because she thinks he’s a playboy. But everyone watching this movie knows that she will eventually fall for Beckett. For quite a while, Beckett can’t seem to remember Finley’s name and keeps calling her other names that start with the letter “f,” especially Frankie. When someone you’re attracted to can’t remember your name, that’s supposed to be charming? Only in a dumb movie like this one.

Finley is curious enough about Beckett to look him up on the Internet. And it’s there that she sees that Beckett has an American actress girlfriend named Taylor Risdale (played by Katherine McNamara), whom he’s known since they were both child actors. Beckett and Taylor are described as a hot “it couple” by the media, and there’s a lot of news coverage about many aspects of their relationship.

Beckett’s main claim to fame is starring in a movie series called “Dawn of the Dragon,” which is depicted in “Finding You” as a very cheesy movie version of “Game of Thrones.” He’s in Ireland to film one of the movies in the “Dawn of the Dragon” series. Taylor is Beckett’s co-star/love interest in this “Dawn of the Dragon” movie, so she’s in Ireland too. Of course she is.

One stereotype that “Finding You” thankfully doesn’t have is portraying Taylor as completely jealous and vindictive. It would be easy to do when the love triangle part of the story starts to happen. Instead, Taylor is nice to Finley, even when it becomes clear that Beckett is attracted to Finley and has been hanging out with Finley more than is appropriate when he already has a girlfriend who’s nearby.

The seduction starts with Beckett showing up one night at Finley’s room to ask her if she could help him rehearse his script lines. At first she says no, but then she changes her mind. The first time Beckett reads lines with her is when Finley feels a real attraction to him. They almost kiss and then turn their heads away in embarrassment, as you do in a formulaic romantic movie like this one.

Beckett convinces Finley that he needs her to keep helping him with his lines, so he “hires” her as his assistant, even though he never pays her. At one point, Beckett starts to describe Finley as his “acting coach,” which is even more ludicrous. It’s all just an excuse for Beckett and Finley to spend more time together. Everyone knows it but Taylor, who is predictably the last to figure out that Beckett and Finley are falling for each other.

Beckett’s domineering manager also happens to be his father. Montgomery Rush (played by Tom Everett Scott) is a stereotypical, money-hungry “stage dad,” who’s a failed actor and is using his son Beckett to live vicariously through him. Montgomery (who is not married and there’s no mention of Beckett’s mother) has been pressuring Beckett to sign a five-movie, seven-year deal for “Dawn of the Dragon” spinoffs.

However, Beckett is reluctant to sign this lucrative deal because he wants to be known for more than just the “Dawn of the Dragon” movies. Montgomery doesn’t take Finley too seriously because he thinks she’s just another one of Beckett’s flings. Montgomery is essentially the main antagonist in “Finding You.”

Taylor becomes the story’s other antagonist when she thinks Beckett should sign the movie deal too. It turns out that Montgomery has been behind the leaks to the media about Beckett and Taylor’s relationship, so that Beckett’s name is kept in the news. Taylor knows that Montgomery has been manipulating the press in this way, and she doesn’t mind at all. In fact, she encourages it. On paper, Taylor and Beckett seem like a “perfect” couple, but Taylor is depicted as too shallow for Beckett, and he’s starting to see how incompatible they are.

Beckett only starts to see how much of a dead-end relationship he’s in after he meets Finley, who’s not dazzled by his celebrity status and encourages Beckett to be his own man, not the person Beckett’s father wants him to be. Viewers are supposed to believe that because of Finley, Beckett starts to feel like he wants to experience more “normal” things, because he’s been an actor since he was 7 years old. Beckett has a high school degree, but he never went to a graduation ceremony and he never went to a prom because he was too busy working. And he thinks he might want to put his actor career on hold to go to college.

As Finley and Beckett start to spend more time together, she opens up to him about her goal of becoming a professional violinist and about a tragedy in her past, because the heroine in a story like this always has to have a tragedy to make her look more sympathetic. Finley’s tragedy is that her brother Alex died shortly after he got back to America from Ireland. One of the reasons why she’s in Ireland is to pay tribute to him and try to heal from her grief over his death.

Unbeknownst to Finley and her family, Alex left behind a sketch book of drawings and poems at the Callaghan home. Finley finds out when Nora gives the book to Finley shortly after Finley arrives in Ireland. Nora explains that she didn’t feel right about mailing this book to Finley’s family because Nora feared it might get lost in the mail or possibly sent to the wrong address. And so, Nora kept the book for all of these years.

In the sketch book, Finley sees that Alex drew a very unusual stone crucifix that looks partially broken at the top. It looks like the crucifix is part of a gravestone in a graveyard. And so, Finley becomes determined to find this crucifix, which she assumes is somewhere in Ireland. She’s sure that when she finds this crucifix, there will be a special meaning that Alex would want her to get out of this discovery. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

Emma’s high school has a snooty mean girl named Keeva (played by Anabel Sweeney), who was cast as an extra in Beckett’s movie. Keeva’s only purpose in “Finding You” is to brag about being in Beckett’s movie, act like a catty snob about it to Emma and other people, and then get her comeuppance when Beckett starts paying attention to Finley. Emma acts like an overeager puppy dog around Finley, to the point where she calls Finley her “sister.” And therefore, Emma feels like a Beckett Rush “insider” when Finley inevitably gets closer to Beckett and confides in Emma about her dates with Beckett.

There’s also a subplot of Finley being assigned to visit a senior citizen at a nursing home, as part of her school’s “Adopt a Senior” program. And, of course, she’s assigned to a grouchy and bitter loner, whose name is Cathleen Sweeney (played by Vanessa Redgrave), who doesn’t want to have any visitors. Cathleen is very rude to Finley in their first meeting and she orders Finley to leave.

Finley tries to get assigned to someone else, but the nursing home supervisor who’s in charge of the “Adopt a Senior” program tells Finley that Finley can’t change her assigned senior. Finley can’t quit the program either, because an essay on her “Adopt a Senior” experience is required for her to pass whatever student class has this “Adopt a Senior” program. And so, in a very contrived situation, Finley and Cathleen have to spend time together, even though they don’t like each other very much in the beginning.

What does Finley do to pass the time with Cathleen? She reads books to her. And the reading list is laughable because it’s so odd. First, Finley reads Jane Austen’s classic “Pride and Prejudice.” And then she reads Stephenie Meyer’s young adult vampire novel “Twilight.” And that rate, Finley might as well start reading this crabby old lady some “Fifty Shades of Grey” too. Finley doesn’t, but you get the idea of how weird and random it is that “Finding You” has Finley reading “Twilight” to a senior citizen.

And because “Finding You” has to fill up the story with more treacly melodrama, Finley finds out that Cathleen (who is widowed with no children) has been a longtime outcast in the town. It’s because years ago, when she was a young woman, Cathleen married the wealthy man who was engaged to Cathleen’s sister Fiona Doyle. Cathleen and her sister Fiona have remained estranged ever since. Cathleen eventually left her husband, and he was so heartbroken that he drank himself to death, as the story goes in the town. The townspeople have blamed Cathleen for this man’s death and consider her to be heartless and evil.

Finley finds out this story from Nora, after Finley looks in Cathleen’s desk drawer and sees a stack of unopened “return to sender” mail that Cathleen sent to Fiona, who is Cathleen’s only living relative. Finley asks Nora who Fiona Doyle is and why Fiona is returning Cathleen’s mail unopened. Nora is also one of the townspeople who has a negative opinion of Cathleen.

Because Finley is very nosy, she decides she’s going to track down Fiona and try to “fix” this family rift. And there’s a “race against time” aspect to this intrusiveness because of a reason that’s very easy to predict for an old person in a nursing home. It’s also easy to predict that there’s more to the Cathleen/Fiona story than the townspeople’s gossip.

Finley should be the last person to judge other people’s love triangles, because she’s gotten herself involved in a messy love triangle too, but this movie tries to embellish it in the most hypocritical ways. While Finley acts so self-righteous to other people about their lives, she’s sneaking around and dating Beckett (and yes, they eventually kiss) while Taylor is still Beckett’s girlfriend. Beckett is cheating on Taylor with Finley, and neither Beckett nor Finley seems to feel too guilty about it.

But being a knowing participant in infidelity doesn’t fit the “innocent ingenue” narrative for Finley that this movie tries to push on the audience, so this cheating scenario is depicted as Beckett finding true love with Finley, while he’s in an “arranged” relationship with Taylor. Never mind that he’s being dishonest with Taylor. Meanwhile, Emma and Finley breathlessly talk like giddly schoolgirls about Finley’s dates with Beckett. It all just leads to the over-used “redemption of the bad boy” narrative that so many of these stale romance movies have, with Finley being the one to “save” Beckett from his arrogant ways.

The movie shows Finley and Beckett spending time at a pub callled Taffee’s Castle. It’s here where a town drunk named Seamus (played by Patrick Bergin) hangs out, and he sleeps on a bench outdoors during the day. In a movie filled with stereotypes, it should come as no surprise that “Finding You” has the most predictable stereotype for a movie that takes place in Ireland: an alcoholic character. Fortunately, Seamus is the “jolly drunk” type.

And you can do a countdown to the expected scene of Seamus playing the fiddle with a band at the pub, Beckett whispering something to Seamus on stage, and then Seamus announcing to the pub that they have a special guest player in the audience, as Seamus demands that Finley come up on stage to play the fiddle with him and the band. Finley then shakes her head and protests until she reluctantly gets up on stage. She says she plays the violin, not the fiddle, as Seamus hands her a fiddle and tells her that a fiddle is practically the same as a violin.

And it’s here that viewers can predict that Seamus is in the movie so he can teach Finley how to play a musical instrument with her heart more than with her head. Yes, there are more scenes later of Finley and Seamus playing the fiddle together. It’s all so schmaltzy and unimaginative.

There are also a few scenes where Beckett spends time with Finley when she’s visiting with Cathleen. In one scene, Beckett is bizarrely dressed up as someone’s version of a 1960s hippie who looks like a reject from the “Woodstock” movie. It’s supposed to be Beckett’s way of charming Cathleen, who’s from the Woodstock Generation.

Beckett says some old hippie jargon to get Cathleen to like him. It’s very pandering and insulting to people’s intelligence. But in a stupid movie like this one, this manipulation works with Cathleen, who approves of Beckett and tells Finley that he’s a good man and a “keeper.” Finley doesn’t tell Cathleen that Beckett is cheating on his girlfriend Taylor by dating Finley.

Meanwhile, in a ridiculous movie like “Finding You,” while Finley is traipsing around Ireland with Beckett, spending time being his “acting coach”/assistant on and off the movie set, playing the fiddle with Seamus, searching for that mystery crucifix, reading books to Cathleen, and trying to force Cathleen’s estranged sister Fiona (played by Helen Roche) to reunite with Cathleen, at no time is Finley actually seen in any classes or doing any studying. It makes you wonder why the filmmakers made Finley an American student who’s supposed to be enrolled in an Irish school, when she just really acts like an American on holiday in Ireland.

The acting in this movie is unremarkable, even with the great Vanessa Redgrave in the cast. She plays a very cranky character in the movie, so she might not have had to do much acting, since most Oscar-winning actors would be cranky too if they ended up in this type of schlocky movie. As for the “fairytale” couple in this story, Goodacre is much more believable and expressive in his role as Beckett than Reid is as Finley, who is as bland as bland can be.

However, there’s only so much actors can do when the dialogue ranges from basic to silly. The scenery in Ireland looks nice in the movie though. But that’s not enough to watch “Finding You,” when there are plenty of better romantic dramas that are set in Ireland. (Some examples: 2007’s “Once,” 2010’s “Ondine” and, for a New York City-Ireland connection, 2015’s “Brooklyn.”) Ultimately, “Finding You” sticks to an over-used formula to such a lazy degree that it makes the movie irrelevant and forgettable.

Roadside Attractions released “Finding You” in U.S. cinemas on May 14, 2021.

Review: ‘Wild Mountain Thyme,’ starring Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan, Jon Hamm and Christopher Walken

December 11, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jamie Dornan and Emily Blunt in “Wild Mountain Thyme” (Photo by Kerry Brown/Bleecker Street)

“Wild Mountain Thyme”

Directed by John Patrick Shanley 

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ireland and in New York City, the romantic drama “Wild Mountain Thyme” has an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Two oddball Irish farmers—one female and one male—have very different views of love and marriage, while the male famer’s rich American businessman cousin might be part of a love triangle for this would-be couple.

Culture Audience: “Wild Mountain Thyme” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching romantic movies that are pretentious and ridiculous.

Jon Hamm, Jamie Dornan and Christopher Walken in “Wild Mountain Thyme” (Photo by Kerry Brown/Bleecker Street)

The production notes for “Wild Mountain Thyme” describe the movie as a “comedic, moving and wildly romantic tale.” Comedic? The reality is that “Wild Mountain Thyme” is a drama with a lot of unintentionally so-bad-it’s-funny moments. Moving? This painfully dull movie doesn’t pour on the sentimental sap until the last 15 minutes of the film—and it does so in the corniest way possible. Wildly romantic? The characters in “Wild Mountain Thyme” are so dysfunctional and/or emotionally repressed that there’s almost no passionate romance in the film, and the characters spend most of the movie bickering about land ownership and who’s a legitimate farmer.

“Wild Mountain Thyme,” which takes place mostly in Ireland and partially in New York City, was written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, who adapted the movie from his 2014 Broadway play “Outside Mullingar.” Even though Shanley has won an Oscar (for writing 1987’s “Moonstruck”) and a Tony and a Pulitzer (for the play “Doubt: A Parable”), those prestigious awards don’t mean that someone is incapable of making an embarrassing stinker. “Wild Mountain Thyme” is an overly verbose story that ultimately doesn’t have much to say and should have remained on the stage, where pretentiously worded dialogue is expected and therefore much more palatable than it is for a movie audience.

“Wild Mountain Thyme” (which was filmed primarily in Mayo County, Ireland) gets its name because there are scenes in the movie where people sing “Wild Mountain Thyme” in a pub. The cinematic version of the story also greatly benefits from showcasing the lush and gorgeous landscape of rural Ireland. There’s no denying that the film’s cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt is one of the movie’s few high points.

But right from the start, the tone of “Wild Mountain Thyme” is off-kilter, by having a dead character as the movie’s intermittent guide/storyteller. There’s voiceover narration from Irish farmer Tony Reilly (played by Christopher Walken, doing his usual eccentric schtick) explaining how the would-be couple at the center of the story first came to know each other. Tony announces at the beginning of the narration that he’s dead, so people will know that they’re supposed to be hearing the voice of a ghost. Very morbid.

Tony says, “They say if an Irish man dies while telling a story, you can rest assured, he’ll be back.” This movie is so unimaginative that, sure enough, toward the end of the film, Tony’s voice comes back into the narration to repeat the same line. The narration is really unnecessary because Tony doesn’t provide any insight that isn’t already presented in the movie characters’ actions.

“Wild Mountain Thyme” producer Martina Nilan is quoted in the movie’s production notes as saying that “Wild Mountain Thyme” is “a timeless fable with a heightened fairy-tale tone.” However, the movie isn’t timeless and actually is very outdated with its old-fashioned views of strict gender roles for men and women when it comes to love and romance. Based on what the “Wild Mountain Thyme” characters say and how they act, they believe that women’s ultimate goal in life should be to get married and have children, and women have to wait until men make the first move in a courtship.

The movie also has the sexist notion that women who’ve never been married by a certain age have to be desperate to get married. “Wild Mountain Thyme” also pushes a narrative that a woman isn’t considered a “real woman” unless she wants to become a mother or is a mother. Meanwhile, men who’ve never been married and have no kids by a certain age might be considered “strange,” but they don’t have to be desperate to find a spouse.

It’s this moldy concept that stinks up the “will they or won’t they” relationship of Rosemary Muldoon (played by Emily Blunt) and Anthony Reilly (played by Jamie Dornan), two Irish farmers who embody the old-fashioned stereotypes of what usually happens in romantic dramas: The woman wants to be romanced by the man and be in a committed relationship with him that leads to marriage, while the man spends almost the entire story resisting. In other words, the man always has the “upper hand,” because he’s the one who decides if there will be a romantic relationship or not.

The movie sticks to this formula like patriarchal glue. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a story about falling in love and wanting to get married and have kids. But the way this story is told in “Wild Mountain Thyme” is extremely off-putting because the filmmakers want to pretend that it’s a feminist movie, when it’s just the opposite. For almost the entire movie, Rosemary mopes around and sulks because she’s waiting for Anthony to show a sign that he wants more than a platonic relationship.

As Anthony’s dead father Tony explains in the narration, Rosemary has been in love with Anthony since they were both 10 years old. (In flashbacks, Abigail Coburn plays a young Rosemary, while Darragh O’Kane plays a young Anthony.) The Reilly family and Muldoon family are farmers who live right next door to each other in rural Ireland, so the kids grew up knowing nothing but life on a farm.

The adult Rosemary and Anthony in this story are now in their late 30s. Because of Tony’s ghostly narration, this entire story is a flashback. Tony’s death and funeral are eventually shown in the movie.

The Muldoon family owns a strip of land that overlaps into the entrance of the Reilly family’s home. Tony tries in vain to get the Muldoon family to sell that strip of land to him. The questions over who owns this strip of land and who will inherit the entire Reilly family property are sources of contention throughout the story.

Anthony’s widower father Tony wants Anthony to inherit the farm. However, Tony is having doubts about his son’s ability to handle the responsibility because Anthony is an emotionally immature loner who doesn’t seem very smart about the business side of running the farm. Tony also disapproves of Anthony not showing any interest in getting married and having kids, while Anthony is extremely unwilling to become a husband and father. In fact, Anthony shows no interest in having a committed relationship with anyone.

What’s odd is that later in the story, Tony mentions Anthony’s two other siblings: Trish and Audrey, who are never seen or heard in the film. It’s implied that these two sisters are still alive somewhere. But because the movie has a sexist tone to it, these female characters are easily dismissed and never mentioned again, as if Anthony is the only rightful heir in the family.

Tony’s wife Mary (played by Clare Barrett), who died when the children were young, is also sidelined. She’s only seen briefly in flashbacks, where she’s cheerfully singing or cooking in the kitchen by herself, with no lines of dialogue. Considering this film’s sexist attitude about women only existing to be wives and mothers, it’s no wonder that Mary is only seen in the kitchen.

At one point in the movie, Tony admits to Anthony that he married Mary out of loneliness, not out of love, but that Tony eventually came to appreciate his wife, who was the one who pushed for them to get married in the first place. It’s an obvious parallel to what’s going on with Rosemary and Anthony. The only time that Anthony mentions his mother is when he tells Rosemary: “When my mother died, I couldn’t see colors anymore.” Cue the violins.

Rosemary is an only child who lives with her widowed and very opinionated mother Aoife (played by Dearbhla Molloy), who also wants Rosemary to get married and start her own family. But Rosemary is pining over an emotionally stunted Anthony, because she thinks he’s “the one.” Aoife (who affectionally calls Rosemary “mad,” as in crazy) also thinks that Anthony is a good match for Rosemary, but you get the impression that Aofie mainly wants to see Rosemary become a wife and mother to any suitable man who might come along.

Rosemary won’t come right out and tell Anthony that she has romantic feelings for him because she expects him to do the “manly” thing and make the first move and ask her out on a date. When Anthony tells her that he’ll never get married, she says that she doesn’t believe him. Rosemary even tells Anthony that she will have her eggs frozen if necessary, until he comes around to the idea of being her husband and the father of her children. But Anthony just acts confused and slightly repulsed (apparently he’s ignorant about modern fertility treatments) and tries to ignore Rosemary’s desperation.

In a flashback to Rosemary’s childhood as a 10-year-old, she’s doing what she usually does in this movie: pouting and obsessing over Anthony. Her father Chris (played by Don Wycherley) notices Rosemary sulking at the kitchen table. She tells her father in a depressed voice: “I’m just a girl. The world is full of girls.”

Her father responds by saying, “You’re not just a girl … You’re a queen … You are the white swan … It means no one can top you. The world is yours. You can do anything.”

Because of this little pep talk, Rosemary becomes fascinated with the ballet “Swan Lake.” There are several references to “Swan Lake” throughout the movie. And these “Swan Lake” references are as cloying and sappy as you might think they are.

In the beginning of the movie, which jumps around in flashbacks throughout the film, Chris has died, so viewers don’t really get to see the relationship that Rosemary had with Chris when she was an adult. However, Rosemary is very close to her mother, who can often get on Rosemary’s nerves with nagging about Rosemary being a spinster. However, no one puts more pressure on Rosemary to become a wife and mother than Rosemary herself.

There’s also a hint that Tony has been attracted to Aofie for quite some time, but he didn’t act on that attraction because she was married. Not long after Chris’ funeral, Tony doesn’t waste time in flirting with Aofie and making it clear that he’d like to get to know her better if she’s interested. Thankfully, that potentially awkward storyline goes nowhere.

After Chris’ death, Rosemary has fully taken over the Muldoon farm’s operations. Of course, the movie doesn’t actually show her doing much dirty work on the farm, since the filmmakers want to confine Rosemary in the stereotypical role of woman who’s mainly concerned with getting an uninterested man to be her husband. There are some scenes with some adorable animals though, with the predictable cute “reaction” shots of an expressive pet dog who seems to know what the humans are saying and has the head tilt and emotional eyes to prove it.

In the ghostly narration, Tony describes Rosemary as being “besotted with love,” which will make viewers wonder if Rosemary’s obsession with Anthony is true love or if she’s just in love with the idea of being married and having her own family. The filmmakers try to make Rosemary look like a moody, tobacco-smoking feminist (she smokes cigarettes and pipes), but she’s really just a run-of-the-mill “damsel in distress” who’s waiting around for a sour and grumpy Anthony to rescue her from her loneliness.

In addition to the cliché of a desperate woman longing for an emotionally unavailable man, “Wild Mountain Thyme” has another over-used cliché in movies about romance: the possibility of a love triangle. It starts from Rosemary and Anthony’s childhood, when there are a few brief scenes of a character named Fiona (played by Anna Weekes), whom Rosemary sees as a threat for Anthony’s affections. It’s mentioned that in her childhood, Rosemary even got into a physical fight with Fiona, by pushing her down. The adults didn’t do much about it but give Rosemary a mild scolding.

However, just like all the female characters with supporting roles in the movie, Fiona only seems to be there for filler and not to further the story in any way. When Anthony and Rosemary are adults, there is a brief reference to Fiona when Anthony mentions to Rosemary that he saw Fiona by chance somewhere and he had brief conversation with her. (Anthony and Fiona’s conversation is never shown in the movie.) Rosemary gets visibly jealous when she hears that Anthony and Fiona were in contact with each other.

There’s a brief scene that shows Anthony is interested in dating women when he has a drunken encounter with a pretty but scruffy blonde named Eleanor (played by Lydia McGuinness), who’s got spiky and messy hair styled like the ’80s female pop trio Bananarama. Anthony and Eleanor meet in a pub, get drunk together, and hang out on a ledge, where she confesses some sordid sexual secrets to him. She’s so tipsy that she loses her balance and falls off of the ledge. Eleanor is never seen again in the movie.

The main love triangle in the story is between Anthony, Rosemary and Adam (played by Jon Hamm), who is the American son of Tony’s brother. Adam is a single, successful money manager in New York City, because apparently the “Wild Mountain Thyme” filmmakers want to shut out any possibility that there are plenty of eligible bachelors in Ireland who could catch Rosemary’s fancy. Adam, who is very brash and confident, loves to flaunt his wealth. And by his own admission, Adam relishes being the center of attention.

Because Tony has doubts about Anthony’s ability to take care of the farm, he tells Anthony that he’s contemplating having Adam inherit the farm, even though Adam has no experience in farming. However, Tony is impressed with Adam’s business skills and he thinks the farm has a better chance of thriving if Adam took over the operations.

And so, Adam is invited to Ireland to look over the farm. Adam thinks of himself as someone who can easily be a farmer, because it’s something that he’s been fantasizing about for a while. However, it’s clear as soon as Adam comes to visit, he’s really a city dweller at heart. He wants to own the farm, not be an actual farmer.

Because he’s a showoff, Adam drives up to the farm one day in a silver Rolls Royce, which greatly impresses Tony. Meanwhile, Anthony is naturally feeling overshadowed and unappreciated when Adam is around. Anthony makes a point of telling Adam that he’s not a real farmer. The business-minded Adam is appalled that Anthony and Rosemary don’t know how many acres of farm land that they have.

It isn’t long before Adam shows that he’s attracted to Rosemary. The feeling isn’t really mutual, but Rosemary likes the attention, which is something that she doesn’t get from Anthony. Whereas Anthony can’t even be bothered to go over to the Muldoon house to visit Rosemary (even though she lives next door), Adam eagerly invites Rosemary to visit New York City, within a few hours of meeting her. Rosemary tells Adam that she’d love to go to the theater in New York. And this is the point in the movie where viewers can predict that if Rosemary does ever go to visit Adam in New York, you know exactly which stage production she’ll want to see.

Meanwhile, whenever Anthony gets irritated with Rosemary (which is often), he tells her that she should think about selling the farm and that she should leave Ireland. She usually replies in a huff that maybe she will leave. But she’s not fooling anyone. Rosemary is too obsessed with Anthony to leave.

Anthony occasionally mentions that he’s thinking about leaving farm life behind too. At one point, he makes a very un-patriotic comment about Ireland: “It’s a terrible place for a decent person.” Anthony, who keeps telling people that he thinks he’s “mad” (as in mentally ill), is also somewhat of a social outcast in the community.

Anthony’s oddball reputation is further fueled after an incident when a neighbor named Cleary (played by Barry McGovern) sees Anthony practicing a marriage proposal in a field. Anthony is rehearsing this proposal because he’s starting to wonder if maybe he should marry someone someday. Anthony thinks the only witness to his “marriage proposal rehearsals” is a donkey in the field.

But the nosy neighbor sees Anthony and wrongly assumes that Anthony is proposing marriage to the donkey. He tells other local people about what he saw, and soon Anthony becomes part of a community joke that Anthony might be into bestiality. Although this notion about Anthony is far-fetched, it at least accurately demonstrates how quickly gossip can spread in a small town.

When Rosemary asks Anthony why he won’t leave the farm, he replies: “These green fields and the animals living off them. And then there’s us living off of the animals. And over that, that what tends to us, lives off us maybe. Whatever that is, it holds me here.” This is the type of eye-rolling dialogue that’s littered throughout the movie.

“Wild Mountain Thyme” has scene after scene that’s supposed to be “deep philosophy from Irish farmers who look like movie stars,” but it all just sounds like nonsensical crap. For example, Rosemary asks Anthony: “How many days do we have until the sun shines?” Anthony replies, “It’s not shining.” Rosemary then says, “I believe that it is.” Obviously, this is a not-so-subtle reference to Rosemary’s optimism about love and Anthony’s pessimism. And only in a badly written entertainment project do farmers really talk like that.

One of the worst things about “Wild Mountain Thyme” is that it pushes a narrative that a romantic person who’s desperate to be in love, just by sheer force of will and being persistent, can “change” a person who resists the romantic person’s amorous intentions and the romantic can “make” that person fall in love with them. But “Wild Mountain Thyme” can’t even push this narrative in a clever way. It’s an unhealthy approach to relationships because true love is accepting people for who they are, not trying to change them to fit someone else’s fantasies.

One of the most cringeworthy scenes in the movie is when Rosemary and Anthony have an argument after she tells him about an encounter that she had with Adam where Adam made it very clear that Adam is interested in dating Rosemary. Rosemary declares to Anthony during this argument: “I want a man! Adam smells like soap! He smells like the lilies of the field!”

Anthony replies, “Why would you want to smell the cows on me, when you can smell the lilies on him?” Rosemary shouts, “I’m the one who should smell good! A man should stink—like you!”

And then, Rosemary says to Anthony: “It’s good that you’re tall. Men are beasts. They need that height to balance the truth and goodness of women.” We shudder to think what Rosemary might think about men who are short or average-sized. What’s also strange about this dialogue is that Anthony isn’t really that tall.

Anthony replies to Rosemary by saying something that viewers are thinking at this point: “There’s no answer to blather like that.” Rosemary continues undaunted, with a pseudo-feminist rant: “Hope is a force. And women are the salvation of the world! I believe that, and mean to make you believe it!”

The actors should be commended for not doing this scene without breaking out into laughter at the ridiculousness of it all. That’s no guarantee that people watching the movie won’t laugh (or groan or cringe) at this scene, which is intended to be a serious emotional moment in the film, but comes across as something that might be in a rejected soap opera script. And again: What kind of farmers talk like they’re competing in a Bad Prose of the Year contest?

Blunt gives it her best shot to make Rosemary as feisty and “lovable” as possible. But it’s all just a façade, because Rosemary’s actions and intentions show how she’s not the strong-minded, independent woman she would like think she is. Almost everything she does in the story is to try to impress Anthony or get a reaction out of him. Her self-esteem is wrapped up in him, not in herself.

And the chemistry between Blunt and Dornan isn’t very believable, not the least of which because Anthony is supposed to be this sulking, brooding type who does everything he can to avoid having a serious romance with anyone. At one point in the story, Rosemary asks Anthony if he’s gay. He emphatically says “no,” and acts very offended by the question. And when Rosemary asks him if he’s a virgin, he scoffs at the idea.

You can’t really blame Rosemary for asking, because there’s no indication that Anthony has ever had a serious girlfriend. One of the biggest flaws of “Wild Mountain Thyme” is that even though the main characters in this movie talk a lot, they don’t really show much personality. Anthony comes across as cold and very hard to read. Rosemary’s only real passion is trying to get Anthony to fall in love with her.

However, fans of Blunt (who starred in the Disney movie musicals “Into the Woods” and “Mary Poppins Returns”) will at least be happy to know that she does sing quite well in “Wild Mountain Thyme,” since she has a solo performance when Rosemary gets up on stage at a pub to sing “Wild Mountain Thyme.” Dornan also breaks out into song in the movie. And the music in “Wild Mountain Thyme” is a family affair, since Dornan’s wife Amelia Warner is the film’s composer.

The biggest unintentional laughs in the movie are toward the end, when Anthony confesses a secret to Rosemary, after she begs him to tell her why he’s so against the idea of falling in love and getting married. It’s when the movie goes from bad to beyond redemption, and takes an abrupt turn into the depths of phony schmaltziness. “Wild Mountain Thyme” tries to throw in this sweet sentimentality to try to pander to a certain formula, but the movie really just stinks like the garbage that it is.

Bleecker Street released “Wild Mountain Thyme” in U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on December 11, 2020.

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