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Non-Review Review: Wide Open Spaces

I don’t know what it is about Irish cinema, but it’s very hard to get excited about. Most of our best talent seems to work overseas, which is why it’s great to get the guys behind Father Ted to come back. But it just… it doesn’t feel right. Wide Open Spaces is a perfectly average film. It isn’t side splittingly funny, but it isn’t dreadfully unfunny either. There isn’t much going on, and there are points when it feels like it’s trying too hard, but it isn’t the worst film of the year. It’s just… not very good, to be honest.

Two actors in search of a good script...

Two actors in search of a good script...

The film’s central premise – a famine theme-park being erected by a shady developer – has a lot of comedic potential and most of the film’s laughs come from that element. The problem is that the film insists on using this as a jumping-off point into a critical look at the greed and corruption inherent in Irish culture. The problem is that it is not deep or complex enough to be a full or considered look at the underbelly, nor is it funny enough to be a refreshing look. It seems as if the writers wanted to say “Aren’t the government – and the people – of this country gombeens?” I don’t like it when a film simply asserts I’m an idiot. If it wants to make a case that I am, let it use wit or charm or intelligence to further that claim, don’t simply hit me over the head with it again and again and again.

That said, the film’s performances are good – much better than it probably deserves. Ardal O’Hanlon and Ewen Bremner are solid leads, playing more down-to-earth versions of Ted and Dougal. One’s smart and cynical, the other’s a lovable idiot. It’s a fairlystraightforward relationship, and arguably two dimensional. I won’t claim that either actor finds a hidden facet of their character or draws out a third dimension for the paper-thin constructs that they have been asked to play, but they make the characters far less painful to watch than they probably should be. It helps that there is a hint of chemistry between the two actors that shines through regardless.

It’s Owen Roe who steals the show as the shady property developer/love doctor/political fixer. He’s a charming rogue and we do get the sense that most of the charm comes from the performance. Gerard McSorley tries his best in an underwritten cliche of a corrupt Minister, but it’s a thankless task and one can’t blame him for doing very little. There’s only so much an actor can to do to mitigate bad writing, and it’s an uphill struggle for a fantastic cast. Looking at it on paper, the movie should be far better than it is.

Some moments will draw wry smiles from the audience, and maybe a light chuckle at two. The best thing about the film – from the perspective of someone who lived in the countryside – is how stunningly it draws out the ugliness of the midlands. And I mean that in the best possible way. Fields, quarries, worn old classic houses. Shades of gritty grey. And dampness. Lots of dampness. You’ll be hardpressed to find a better representation of what Irish life outside the city is like.

If you can ignore the blunt political commentary and don’t mind a comedy that can’t ellicit belly-laughs, there’s no reason to avoid this particular film. There are a few moments that will bring a smile to your face. My favourite image is the developer’s humble hillside shack, complete with two potted plants on pillars at either side of the door.

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