Tag Archives: C

WHEN BRENDAN MET TRUDY

C+

He’s a geeky prep-school teacher who sings Latin hymns in the church choir and is a fanatical film buff. She’s a free-spirited, straight-talking modern gal who’s proud of a career as a burglar. Can Brendan (Peter McDonald) and Trudy (Flora Montgomery) click as a couple despite their obvious differences? The answer in this Irish romantic comedy, written for the screen by Roddy Doyle (who previously adapted his Barrytown Trilogy novels “The Commitments,” “The Snapper” and “The Van,” with considerable success), is hardly surprising–yes, she succeeds in breaking down the poor guy’s inhibitions and helping him cut loose–but “When Brendan Met Trudy” tweaks the conventions of the genre sufficiently to make it moderately amusing, if hardly on a level with those earlier pictures. It’s the second offering in Shooting Gallery’s spring series of independent films (for information on dates and theatres log on to www.shootinggallery.com).

Doyle’s idea was obviously to take the usual pattern of Hollywood boy-meets-girl fluff like “When Harry Met Sally,” transport it to the colorful world of contemporary Dublin, and increase its oddities for quirky effect (especially through the periodic use of ersatz news broadcasts, which feature among other matters a subplot about a shadowy figure who castrates men and an inexplicable shot of a gun-toting nun). He further emphasizes his satirical use of formula by including scads of cinematic references into the piece, both inserting numerous excerpts from classic movies into the script and staging parts of his duo’s story in the style of famous flicks. Thus at one point the picture suddenly becomes a quasi-facsimile of Godard’s “Breathless,” complete with French subtitles (which soon turn into Gaelic); and at others it revisits scenes from such varied fare as “The Searchers” and “Sunset Boulevard.” At the close it even trots out the much-used “what happened to” device of showing us the futures of various characters in freeze frame with cute captions.

All of this will probably please critics and film aficionados, who will smugly catch all the references and pat themselves on the back for doing so. It should be pointed out, though, that the technique is basically a stunt which pales more than a little when it’s endlessly repeated. It would be nice, moreover, if the borrowings had anything to do with the situations in which they’re used. The “Breathless” bit is okay, but having the hero lie down in a gutter to recall “Sunset Boulevard” is just an easy allusion without much point, and why the hero should pose like John Wayne in the final scene of “The Searchers” is hard to fathom (and why he should immediately afterward attempt a Gene Kelly-Fred Astaire dance leap is unclear, too). In short, all the cinematic shorthand is cheerful enough, but it really doesn’t tell us terribly much beside the fact that Doyle has seen a lot of the same movies we all have. It’s significant that what struck at least this viewer as the funniest movie joke in the picture comes near the beginning, in a throwaway bit where we see that Brendan is such a fanatic that he would think a biography of Godard an appropriate Christmas present for his mother, or give a young nephew a book on Truffaut.

If the result seems more than a trifle thin and contrived, however, at least it’s blessed with an engaging cast. McDonald, who was memorably teamed with Brendan Gleeson in Paddy Breathnach’s “I Went Down” (1997), proves the very personification of dorkiness; his body language is especially enjoyable to watch. Montgomery is less notable, mostly because her character is a shrilly one-note type, but she’s certainly energetic. Marie Mullen has a crowd- pleasing turn as Brendan’s mom, whose incongruous penchant for foul language gets some major laughs, and Barry Cassin savors his scene as the surprisingly understanding headmaster at Brendan’s school (though the last shot of him in the film’s final moments is a humiliation). Director Kieron J. Walsh, who here graduates from TV and commercial work, is a trifle heavy-handed at times (certainly we might have been spared the shot of Brendan trying to defecate, squatting, on a carpet as proof of his love for Trudy), but at least he’s more deft that the music video chieftains who regularly cross over to do Hollywood features.

“When Brendan Met Trudy” is a genial enough trifle, but it’s completely synthetic, lacking the more resonant, genuine moments one might have hoped for from the author of the Barrytown books. It will make you guffaw from time to time and chuckle even more frequently, but that’s about it. It certainly won’t stay with you the way “The Commitments” or “The Snapper” does.

GET OVER IT

Grade: C

Miramax decided not to hold any press pre-screenings for their new teen comedy, which is rather a shame considering that it’s one of the less horrible examples of the genre to come out in the last year or so. That’s not so say that “Get Over It” isn’t formulaic and, by comparison to some earlier pictures, second-rate. By situating a typical high-school problems-with-romance scenario within the context of a staging of a musical version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” for instance, it calls to mind “10 Things I Hate About You,” which was better. Its general air of understatement, moreover, isn’t far removed from the mood of Amy Heckerling’s underappreciated “Loser,” but that picture was more clever. And by recycling the hoary plot about the guy who’s gaga over one chick while failing to recognize that his true soul-mate is the nearby girl who’s always ready to lend him a hand, it practically demands that you stack it up against John Hughes’ early pictures, like “Some Kind of Wonderful,” which–while hardly great movies–had a freshness this one can’t match.

Still, by the rather low standards of today, this sophomore effort by director Tommy O’Haver (the arch “Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss”) and writer R. Lee Fleming, Jr. (the soporific “She’s All That”) is a generally tolerable bit of fluff, certainly marking an improvement for both over their debut features. It also boasts an engaging and likable cast. Ben Foster gives an agreeably low-key performance as Berke, a sad-sack sort of fellow dumped by his long-time squeeze Allison (photogenic, and pleasantly non-shrewish, Melissa Sagemiller), who soon takes up with a pompous, posturing braggart named Bentley (Shane West). To win Allison back, Berke gets involved in the campus show, but his lack of talent forces him to ask the help of sweet Kelly (Kirsten Dunst), the younger sister of his best buddy Felix (Colin Hanks). It doesn’t take long for anybody in the audience to realize that Kelly is the perfect girl for Berke, but the poor guy is a bit denser than we are, and he has to go through a series of humiliations and soul-searching moments before he finally makes the decision we all knew from the start he would.

All this is terribly pat, of course, but Foster and Dunst work so nicely together that their quieter moments have real charm–more, certainly, than Dunst could bring to the cretinous “Bring It On.” There’s also an amusing secondary courtship between Berke’s friend Dennis (Sisqo, who on the evidence here has real screen presence) and Kelly’s pal Basin (Mila Kunis, the wonderfully goofy Jackie from “That ’70’s Show”). Hanks and Sagemiller are solid, too–each happily eschewing the over-the-top exaggeration with which characters like theirs are usually portrayed in these kinds of flicks in favor of a more restrained, easygoing approach. (The only one of the younger performers who overdoes things radically, in fact, is West–though that can be chalked up to the requirements of conventional villainy).

Unfortunately, the understated sweetness of much of “Get Over It” is all too often interrupted by those throwaway bits of crudity and raunchiness that filmmakers seem to consider obligatory in teen comedies nowadays. A running gag about a dog that humps anything within reach, for example, is not only vulgar but unnecessary. Scenes in which Berke gets prodigiously urinated on by a horse and arrested while shackled and strung up in a sex-club seem completely gratuitous, as well as utterly unfunny. And a sequence in which Berke appears on the basketball court in a state of only half-dress is depressingly dumb. If the makers had had the courage to excise the gross-out material and keep the picture’s cheerful tone unsullied, the result would have been far more enjoyable, if still pretty predictable.

They might also have reined in some of the older actors, most of whom chew up the scenery a tad too ravenously. The worst offender is Martin Short as the self-important writer- director of the school play. The character is like something lifted out of an old SCTV skit, but Short’s extravagant overplaying, which worked well on the small screen, becomes more than a little oppressive when shoved at us in extreme close-up. And Swoozie Kurtz and Ed Begley, Jr. are only slightly less broad as Berke’s far too understanding parents. (As in so many pictures aimed at the younger crowd, the son is far more mature than mom and dad.) It would also have been nice had the musicalized “Dream” (of which, in the last reel, we endure quite a bit) been either more or less awful. As it is, it’s neither “Kiss Me Kate” (which would have been one way to go), nor “Springtime for Hitler” (the other); it’s just mediocre and tedious (including Kelly’s self-penned song, which, it seems, one’s supposed to be think good). As a result, the big climax of the picture falls more than a little flat.

“Get Over It” is, in the final analysis, a generally harmless trifle that’s better than you might expect but not as good as you’d want. It has enough incidental pleasures to keep you reasonably content if you stumble into it, but you’ll probably be reluctant to recommend it to your friends afterwards, despite the charm of its leads.