Saint Patrick’s Day didn’t send me to the pub for a pint (for once), but had me searching the streaming services and cable networks for Irish film fare I’ve missed over the years.
No “Quiet Man” or “Leap Year” or “Brooklyn” or Minnie Driver binge for us, oh no. Just something we could watch and say, “Oh look, dear. It’s Dublin/County Cork/Howth/Galway. Remember?”
The appeal of scenery in Irish cinema cannot be understated.
After sampling John Ford’s “The Moon is Rising” from 1957 (Dublin, the way it was before modernity hit), we settled on “The Pier,” a little-seen Gerard Hurley character study/homecoming comedy.
Put “comedy” in quotes here, because this sad-faced little romance is a genre pic that pours effort and thought into defying genre. There are laughs, but a dark undercurrent, too. It avoids melodramatic choices, even as it shoves in a romance in the most melodramatic way imaginable.
I can’t say it’s all that, ah, but the coastline (County Cork), the quaint fishing village, the pub! The PUB!
Hurley (“The Pride” is his only other film credit) is an Irish carpenter living in Chicago, summoned home by the urgent call, “Your Da’ is dying!” from a neighbor lady.
Jack borrows money for plane fare and rushes home, but can’t even get to the door without cursing. There’s the old man (Karl Johnson of “The Illusionist”), out playing golf in the wind-whipped mists.
Jack is in a lather, especially when he picks up on why his estranged father — they haven’t seen each other in 20 years — called. Dad has money owed him all over the village. Jack is called back to help him collect it.
The son’s less-than-bemused dismay — he takes a break to rage and curse at The Almighty in the surf — is tempered, somewhat, by the presence of an age appropriate single-woman “outsider,” an American, conveniently in town and warmly played by Lili Taylor. It’s only the promise of “platonic” walks that gets him anywhere with her.
Instead, he and his cranky, loner father, spend their days riding about in a van, getting told off by many, blown off by others, who owe the father money.
The predictable ways this might have played out are we learn a dark secret about those “debts,” that we hear the “true story” of how Jack’s mother died (on “The Pier”) when he was just a boy.
Hurley avoids these, and most other plot points that would drive interest in this tale. Estrangement from his father, his father’s estrangement from The Church, his father’s actual health, etc., dominate scenes that fill in between arguments in the pub and ambling confession walks with The American Woman along the scenic Cork Coast.
The performances are winning enough, with Johnson’s masterful irascibility masking an ugly streak that reveals itself, scene by scene.
It’s not utterly aimless, but you do get the sense that this one, for its scattered sharp exchanges of dialogue and odd turns (not reaching the level of “twists”) is coasting along on its Irishness, with barely enough blarney to get by.
As a general rule, “Oh look dear, it’s County Cork! Remember?” isn’t enough.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with violence, profanity
Cast: Gerard Hurley, Karl Johnson, Lili Taylor
Credits:Written and directed by Gerard Hurley. A Black Equus release.
Running time: 1:29