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Ah Sure, It’s Grand: Random Thoughts on Critical Reception to Irish Films…

It’s always a bit interesting when a major and well-received Irish film is released, if only because it typically involves a fairly large divorce between the critical and audience reception to these films. It has been suggested that film critics are too quick to shower Irish films with praise they don’t deserve, out of some misplaced sense of patriotism. As the Trinity Film Review succinctly sums up:

An overrated Irish film is not hard to find. Our tendency towards the inflated evaluation of domestic filmmaking is a self-perpetuating one, leaving audiences indifferent towards the hyperbole-gavaged, entry-level film geese trotted out by our native industry, and filmmakers and critics alike complacent in the immutable, self-congratulatory expository routine the utter nakedness of which nobody seems inclined to comment on.

I have to admit, I’ve seen this in effect quite a few times, and it really bugs me – if only because it makes it harder to spot when a realgem of a film comes along. I honestly don’t think that this sort of attitude helps anyone.

I'm not down with that...

I’ve remarked before the genuinely tragic irony that the best Irish talent seems to have to migrate to find work. In Bruges should have been the best Irish film ever made, but it was funded internationally, despite a large amount of Irish talent involved. Although Father Ted was never offered to RTE, it still stands as one of the best examples of Irish humour, funded and developed by a British television station. Those are classics, easily among some of the best examples of their genre ever produced. I realise that it’s old-fashioned and out-of-date in this modern multi-national world, but I do feel a swelling of patriotic pride when it comes to productions like that.

And I wonder why we can’t produce anything that good using our own money or production companies. I look at the reviews that these are getting both nationally and internationally, and I compare them to some of the reviews that our own critics give to fairly average and bland homegrown productions – I can’t understand how the nonsense we produce domestically gets this sort of rave response from critics.

The long and the Shortt of it...

And, I mean, I think the reviews are part of the problem. Garage was a perfect grand way to spend an hour and some change, with a solid lead performance. It was not a revelation. It was not amazing or astounding. It was okay, the kind of film that would air on a Saturday morning at an international film festival. Perrier’s Bounty was a perfectly average piece of fluff that might have been a whole lot more enjoyable if it hadn’t been so pretentious. I think that I would have enjoyed both films a hell-of-a-lot more if they hadn’t been ridiculously over-hyped upon release as examples of how the Irish film industry can produce films that deserve to be measured against the best in the world. They’re grand film, maybe even good, but to call them “great” is inflating expectations far too much. I think a large part of why audiences do feel let down by these films is because the critical response is just so enthusiastic.

However, it has another slightly more troubling effect. It’s the “cry wolf” effect. It’s the fact that, when I pick up a DVD of an Irish film, a four- or five-star rating from RTE, The Irish Times or The Irish Independent means absolutely nothing to me. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just going to be another self-important slow-burning contemplative piece of nonsense that really needed at least one major re-write before it went into production. This is bad, because it makes people less likely to notice a really genuinely impressive film when it comes along.

No wonder audiences are so guarded...

When I told people I really liked The Guard, the first response I got was, “Are you just saying that because it’s an Irish film?” I mean, I really liked the film. It’s not as fantastic as In Bruges, but it’s clever and well-made and is probably in the list of the ten best films I have seen so far this year. And I think that’s something I can be particularly proud of, because it isn’t occupying a token place on that list as “the best Irish production of the year”, it’s actually a great little movie measured against all the American, British, even French films I have seen in the past year.

It makes me sad, the idea that certain people might ignore that because they’ve been tricked once too often into seeing an astoundingly mediocre piece of cinema treated like it’s the second coming, purely because some of our film critics seem to treat it like their patriotic duty to “big up” any Irish attempt to navigate anything to the big screen. It might seem like an act of love to a national film industry, but it does more harm than good.

No wonder some films meet with a cold reception...

I’m reminded of something the great television/novel/comic book writer Paul Cornell once said about improving your work:

Your mum won’t give you harsh criticism of your work. It’s her job not to. You’ve got to find people who will genuinely give you harsh, tough, scathing critique of your work. And then you’ve got to change because of it.

Maybe we just need to stop acting like mothers to the Irish film industry and give them some tough love. Because genuine praise isn’t worth anything, and doesn’t help anyone, unless it’s well earned. And, in the case of The Guard, it certainly is.

2 Responses

  1. ‘Ya little… in da bath fella!’
    I Went Down.. brilliant

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