Movie Review: “Run & Jump” is Irish romantic whimsy with a serious side

run1“Run & Jump” is an uncommonly offbeat and charmingly unconventional romance, an Irish comedy that lets itself get very serious, now and again, and is all the richer for it.

Vanetia (Maxine Peake) is a vivacious 30something mother of two, a pragmatic optimist whose optimism has been sorely tested by her husband’s stroke. Conor (Edward MacLiam) survived and has spent a few months in rehab. He’s functioning, but he’s not himself.

Not to worry, Dr. Ted (Will Forte), an American researcher, is coming to stay with them, to observe Conor, videotape him and write about his condition. Surely he’ll help.

“Just here to observe,” he corrects.

Oh, but surely…

“Conor will not return to his old self,” Ted says, with all the compassion and bedside manner of a research scientist.

Conor used to be a woodworker and he goes through the motions of his old craft. But he develops obsessions, with animals, or wooden spheres. And he has new quirks — tearing apart new chairs because “I need the wood” to make…new chairs. He struggles with his speech, struggles with his memory and struggles with his self-control. He throws tantrums and keeps blurting out “Penny” when he’s talking about their son, Lenny (Brendan Morris), not the thing a confused teen needs to hear.

Conor’s own father hectors his son about manners and manliness, things Conor’s lost in the stroke.

And Ted observes, and tapes. Which starts to get to Vanetia, a woman who dances through her housework with her headphones on, but who is dying a little bit because she has, in essence, lost her husband. She needs something, someone, because her life isn’t over.

“An empty dance floor is a wound that needs healing.”

run2

Peake, a redhead who has light-up-the-screen presence, suggests Vanetia’s vitality under the cover of a repressed, overwhelmed woman’s worries. She beautifully underplays her flirtation with Ted. Forte, on a roll since “Nebraska,” makes Ted a shy, stumbling academic who cannot keep his humanity in check as he sees and starts to sympathize with what this entire family, Conor included, is going through.

MacLiam suggests violent frustration in his scenes, making Conor an explosion waiting to happen. Seeing Conor and his kids around all the power tools Conor insists on using give those moments an edge of fear, the accident waiting to happen.

First time feature director Steph Green, working from Irish screenwriter  Ailbhe Keogan‘s script, makes “Run & Jump” just Irish enough to flirt with twee, but never lets it descend into broad, conventional comedy. Life and loyalty, death and sexuality have their parts to play in this comic tragedy, dramatic comedy and intimate tale of lonely, broken people trying to mend in County Kerry.

3stars2

MPAA Rating: unrated, with sexual situations, drug and alcohol use and profanity

Cast: Maxine Peake, Edward MacLiam, Will Forte

Credits: Directed by Steph Green, written by Ailbhe Keogan. An IFC/Sundance Selects release.

Running time: 1:41

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