Toronto International Film Festival
TORONTO -- "The Boys From County Clare" wraps a banal story of young love and old family quarrels in the lively sights and sounds of Ceili music. This most traditional of Irish dance or party music sweeps the characters up in its happy tunes, all emanating from bands that consist of several fiddles, a flute, piano, drum, some kind of accordion and perhaps a banjo or guitar.
The characters feel drawn from life, and the actors do their best to give them sass. Although the story ultimately lets them down, the movie does allow you to mingle in the rehearsal halls, pubs and a small village where the All Ireland Traditional Music Competition takes place. Directed by John Irvin
, "Boys" makes an attractive light comedy-drama that is just offbeat enough to please adult audiences hankering for something a little different.
Nicholas Adams' story takes place during the '60s, when the Liverpool sound has conquered the pop world but not the world of Ceili music. (It's pronounced "KAY-lee".) The annual Ceili competition sets the stage for a reunion of two estranged brothers, who haven't seen each other in 20-odd years.
Dapper yet still driven Jimmy MacMahon (Colm Meaney
), who left County Clare for success, fine threads and multiple wives in Liverpool, aims to return home with his English band to snatch the trophy away from a band headed by his older brother, John Joe Bernard
Hill). A lifelong bachelor who stayed behind on the family farm, John Joe has no intention of letting this happen. Mind you, each brother is more than willing to stoop to sabotage to keep the other from attending.
Despite their worst intentions, both wind up in a small west Irish village that nearly doubles in size to accommodate all the bands and musicians. Some, such as the English lads and a hippie couple, pitch camp by the beach. When Jimmy's flute player, Teddy (Shaun Evans), falls in love at first sight with John Joe's fiddle player, Anne (Andrea Corr
), all hell breaks loose.
Only now -- and rather implausibly -- does Anne's overprotective mother, Maisie (Charlotte Bradley
), the Irish band's piano player, tell her daughter that Jimmy is her long-lost father. This is a shaky plot device that forces first-time screenwriter Adams to concoct a series of confrontations that will lead to snappy resolutions of a lifetime of grief and resentment. Fortunately, the music frequently interrupts the melodrama, and the romance between the two musicians keeps the movie cheerful.
Meaney and Hill play the feuding brothers as a study in contrasts -- one flashy and insincere and the other stolid and reserved. Yet each is passionate about the music. Corr, lead singer of Irish pop band the Corrs, has a charm and sweet gentleness onscreen, though the depth of her acting ability is hard to gauge from this role.
Bradley must play the same note of shrill bitterness throughout, which robs her of a complexity that might have made Maisie a more touching character. Evans is convincing in his puppy-dog devotion to his new love, just as Philip Barantini, playing his buddy Alex, is convincing in his pursuit of female contestants for recreational purposes.
Shot, interestingly enough, not in Ireland but Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man, "Boys" benefits from cinematographer Thomas Burstyn
's warm, romantic lighting and the true Irish grit supplied by designer Tom McCullagh
, who makes the small town's narrow streets and crowded pubs brim with life as musicians celebrate the glory of their music. Composer Fiachra Trench
and Scott Gorham, lead guitarist with the rock band Thin Lizzy
, supply a spirited Irish score combined with music from the period.
THE BOYS FROM COUNTY CLARE
First Look Media presents a Studio Hamburg Worldwide Pictures production in association with the Isle of Mann Commission, TPC and Kolar/Rufus Isaacs
Director: John Irvin
Screenwriter: Nicholas Adams
Producers: Evzen Kolar
, Wolfgang Esenwein, Ellen Little
Executive producers: Anthony Rufus Isaacs, Martyn Auty
, Steve Christian, David Korda
, Jim Reeve, Dieter Stempnierwsky
, Bill Kenwright
Director of photography: Thomas Burstyn
Production designer: Tom McCullagh
Music: Fiachra Trench
Costume designer: Hazel Webb-Crozier
Editor: Ian Crafford
Jimmy: Colm Meaney
John Joe: Bernard Hill
Anne: Andrea Corr
Teddy: Shaun Evans
Alex: Philip Barantini
Maisie: Charlotte Bradley
Padjo: Patrick Bergin
Bernie: Catherine Byrne
Running time -- 90 minutes
No MPAA rating