Boys and Girl from County Clare, The

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 03/11/05 15:16:50

"A Entertaining Chunk of Cratloe Hills"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

When “Spanglish” came out a few months ago, there was an outcry from Latino groups protesting the way that Hollywood usually consigned Latinas to the roles of domestic servants. Every time a mob movie comes out or “The Sopranos” fires up for another season, Italian groups get all ruffled by saying that such things demean them by bringing up the old Italian gangster stereotypes. And yet, the last few years have seen a small cottage industry of Irish films in which their characters are inevitably portrayed as cutesy, overly colorful rapscallions who tend to be obsessed with ancient blood feuds, folk dancing, impenetrable aphorisms and an inability to go five minutes without downing a shot of whiskey or draining a pint or two. Although I am sure that plenty of Irish indulge in these traits, I am certain that it would be unfair to suggest that such a depiction represents every single person in that country. However, not only do Irish groups not protest such cinematic portrayals, they seem to embrace them wholeheartedly. Just once, I would love to see a film in which there was a single Irish character who was plain-spoken, who refused to let his life be dictated by ancient curses or arguments, who hated the very sound of a tin whistle and who, quite frankly, preferred a glass of water instead.

Such a character, you will probably not be surprised to learn, does not make an appearance in the new Irish import “The Boys From County Clare.” Instead, the film safely trudges the same path that countless movies have trod in an attempt to score an international hit on the level of the inexplicably popular “Waking Ned Devine” and its ilk. Therefore, the film does everything but hit you over the head with a Tam O’Shanter in an effort to show you just how charmingly Irish it wants to be. Each character speaks more colorfully than the next. Many have allowed their lives to be governed by past secrets and betrayal for no other reason than the fact that if they don’t, they have nothing to overcome in time for the heartwarming finale. All of them play music in traditional Celi bands and the older folks muse about how this is real music and not that noise by those weirdos who call themselves The Beatles. (The film takes place in 1966, though I’m not really sure that matters.) And of course, they all like to drown their sorrows, or their potential sorrows, in pint after pint after pint; if you could get alcohol poisoning by osmosis, this film would require more nurses on duty in the lobby than a William Castle retrospective.

This time around, the film centers on two bitterly estranged brothers who are reunited when they find themselves going against each other when the folk bands they lead compete in a yearly music contest. John Joe (Bernard Hill) is the salt-of-the-earth type who stayed behind in the small town where they grew up to work the family farm while heading the local Celi band. Jimmy (Colm Meany) is a slick hustler who fled town nearly 25 years earlier and who now leads a band of his own in Liverpool and who is determined this year to win the crown for himself. They both hate each other (for now) and do what they can to sabotage each other from making it to registration on time; when that fails, they wind up fighting and boozing and stirring up old resentments once again until the inevitable reconciliation. (Anyone who writes in to suggest that I should have included a “spoiler” warning to this paragraph really needs to get out more often.)

There are additional conflicts, of course, and most of them revolve around the character of Anne (pop star Andrea Coor), the lovely lass who is the star player of John Joe’s group. At the contest, she meets and falls for Teddy (Shaun Evans), who is the top member of Jimmy’s group. Anne’s overprotective mother (Charlotte Bradley) is dead-set against it, and not just because it involves fraternizing with the enemy. You see, nearly 25 years earlier, she herself was seduced by a rakish musician who abandoned her when she became pregnant; instead of telling the truth, Anne’s mother told her that her father died long ago and refused to identify him. Whether Anne learns the identity of her real father, I leave for you to discover except to mention that it contains perhaps the least surprising plot development since the time that Capt. Renault was shocked to discover there was gambling going on at Rick’s.

The biggest flaw of “The Boys From County Clare” is its relentless predictability; the film follows the Colorful Irish Melodrama playbook so carefully that even the most tolerant of viewers will grow antsy towards the end as it keeps dragging the finale out. (Even at a relatively short 90 minutes, at least fifteen minutes–mostly in the last reel–could have been dropped and I doubt that anyone would have minded.) The other problem with the film is that Andrea Coor, while sweet and attractive and a good musician, is not exactly the most talented actress on the planet; unfortunately, most of the dramatic moments revolve around her character and she isn’t quite up to the challenge.

Despite these objections, I must admit to a grudging fondness towards the film, enough to give it a mild recommendation. Most of that fondness is due to the amusing by-play between Hill and Meany; if you are going to make a film consisting of 90 minutes of blarney, I can’t think of two better people to have in the middle of it than these old pros. They know that they aren’t supposed to be going for subtle realism; instead, they aim for the rafters with broad, blustery turns that are close to irresistible. (In a way, they serve as the Irish equals of Madea from “Diary of a Mad Black Woman”.) Unsurprisingly, there is also a lot of good music on display as well, enough to possibly inspire a trip to the record store immediately after leaving the multiplex. Even Coor is kind of charming in the lighter scenes involving her romance with Evans. On the grand scale of Colorful Irish Films, in which “The Commitments” remains the high-water mark and the horrible “Waking Ned Devine” represents the mossy depths, “The Boys From County Clare” lands somewhere squarely in the middle. There is no particularly compelling reason to watch it, to be sure, but if wind up sitting through it, your time will pass relatively painlessly.

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