Amidst a haze of cigarette smoke and uneaten food, the family of Enda Doyle gathers in Dublin for his wake. A university librarian, poet and rascal, he has left behind a trail of unresolved issues, a dysfunctional family, and a disturbing mystery. Enda's dazed widow, Moya, anxiously prepares for the next day's funeral with her still stuck-at-home, twenty-something daughter Medbh lending a loving hand. Moya's desperation to keep her family together and Medbh's sharp tongue provide the backdrop for the arrival of headstrong older sister Catherine from New York with her handsome but awkward boyfriend Tom in tow. They doubt that London-based Johnny, the angry black sheep brother of the family, will even appear at all. Sorting through boxes of Enda's books, the women discover a cache of self-recorded video diaries that might shed light on who Enda Doyle really was and some of the secrets that he was never able to share with them. At the funeral, the daughters see a distraught young woman ... Written by
I saw this film at the Westwood Film Festival in L.A. and I was blown away.
Red Roses is the kind of film that *should* be getting made these days: strong characters, seamless writing, great performances. Malcolm McDowell plays an admired but flawed Irish patriarch, whose three children and loving wife (elegantly played by Olivia Tracy, who is gorgeous) reunite at his wake and come to terms with their not-always-rosy relationships to him and each other. We come to know McDowell's character Enda Doyle only through videotapes he has left, which doesn't diminish his screen presence one bit he is as riveting here as he was 35 years ago in A Clockwork Orange. As the alcohol flows, the family's dysfunction is gradually revealed until eventually we understand why none of Enda's university colleagues or local pub companions has chosen to join the family at his wake. The standout performance here is by Max Beesley as the prodigal son Johnny - with a presence reminiscent of a tougher Ewan MacGregor he could be MacDowell's real-life son. He nails the hard exterior formed by years of compensating for his father's tough love. Heather Juergensen (Kissing Jessica Stein) out-Irishes her real Irish counterparts (no distracting accents here), and Susan Lynch and Greg Ellis are both strong and convincing as the favorite first-born sister (though no angel, she) and her awkward boyfriend dancing as fast as he can to please everyone.
A central story point is the role of a mysterious beautiful girl known to have kept company at the university with Doyle (Catherine Farrell yes, Colin's sister). Has the mother been unaware all these years of Enda's indiscretions, or has she chosen to live in denial just to survive? This subplot is expertly played out as the film unfolds.
Red Roses and Petrol is an engaging, if sometimes gut-wrenching, portrayal of a real family coming to terms with real issues. Go see it if you can.
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