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Non-Review Review: Damo & Ivor – The Movie

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

In the spirit of The Hardy Bucks Movie before it, Damo & Ivor: The Movie takes a popular Irish television series and weds it to the formula of the road movie to provide a theatrical adaptation.

This is not a bad approach in principle. The road movie is a versatile template, and one that provides a solid template for bringing television characters to the big screen; it provides a clear plot, an opportunity for new viewers to get to know the characters, and the chance to show off a greatly expanded budget. It is no coincidence that even larger American television-to-cinema adaptations have followed this approach, most notably The Muppet Movie.

Indeed, The Hardy Bucks Movie took advantage of the opportunities afforded by this template to take its characters beyond Ireland, allowing them to visit the continent. This was something that would have been impossible on the budget of an Irish television show, and demonstrated an ambition in taking a broad and popular television comedy to the multiplex. In contrast, Damo & Ivor is decidedly more tempered in its ambitions. It is a road movie, but one the confines itself to Ireland. There is little here that could not have been accomplished in a television special.

This much sets the tone for Damo & Ivor: The Movie, which very much aspires to a “good enough” aesthetic in its production. Damo & Ivor is not a film that is enticed to take chances on jumping to the multiplex, instead relaxing casually into formula. Damo & Ivor doesn’t exactly fail, but only because it never really tries.

Damo & Ivor has a very broad and very loose premise. As the opening scene explains via a trip through the family photo album, the title characters were twins separated at birth. Ivor was adopted by a wealthy family on the more upper class “South Side” of Dublin City, while Damo grew up with his grandmother in the inner city “North Side.” Neither Damo nor Ivor are actual characters so much as broadly-drawn cartoons. Ivor is self-absorbed-yet-innocent, while Damo is street-smart-yet-sincere. The pair are developed as archetypes familiar to Irish audiences.

Ivor probably suffers more, in large part because the character exists in the shadow of a cottage industry of South-Sider parodies spearheaded by Paul Howard. Ivor often feels like an inferior copy of Ross O’Carroll Kelly, only without the absurd life experiences that the character has accumulated over his two decades in print and on stage. Ivor is foppish, self-centred, and moronic. He is more a collection of quirks delivered with a funny accent than a convincing character in his own right. Andrew Quirke plays Ivor as a collection of exaggerated gestures and tics.

Damo works better, for a number of reasons. Damo is as much a stereotype as Ivor, but he is repeatedly presented as the moral centre of the film; his occasionally “borrowing” of vehicles aside. Damo is allowed a complexity and nuance that is denied to Ivor, and a strength of character that is also lacking from his sibling. Part of this might be down to a creative position to “punch up” at the wealthier upper class sibling rather than “punch down” at the working class member of the duo, but it also feels like Andrew Quirke has a much firmer grasp on who Damo is supposed to be.

This is reflected in a number of ways over the course of the film. Both Damo and Ivor get plots about their sexual frustration, but Damo’s plot is allowed to play out while Ivor’s fizzles away towards the climax. Ivor is repeatedly shown to be out of his depth and lacking in empathy, while Damo seems to be the glue that holds his family unit together. Indeed, towards the end of the film, Damo & Ivor quite literally confirms that Damo is the strongest of the siblings. Damo is a caricature, but one that feels like there is some substance beneath the peaked white cap.

The biggest issue with Damo & Ivor is a relative lack of ambition in its storytelling and its sense of humour. The film repeatedly chooses the path of least resistance in how it unfolds. This is obvious from the opening scenes, with an extremely clumsy scene bringing new viewers up to speed and an introductory set-piece that looks like it might be designed to showcase the television show’s transition to cinema before jumping back into more mundane fare.

The jokes in Damo & Ivor follow a familiar pattern. There is always an obvious or familiar punchline, often one that even casual viewers will recognise from decades of comedy. This is not a problem of itself. After all, there are very few original sit-com jokes and premises left. However, Damo & Ivor will often respond to this cliché set-up in one of two different ways. Either Damo & Ivor will make the joke anyway and point out the joke for the audience, or Damo & Ivor will make the joke with an additional level of vulgarity to it.

By way of example, one sequence involves difficulty reading a sign in the background of a freeze frame. A sign reads “Ennis-“, with the last few letters cut off. The characters proceed to speculate about the name of the location in question; “Enniscorthy”, “Enniskillen”, and so forth. One character names a bunch of places beginning with “Ennis-“ that don’t exist. Another character points out that these places don’t exist. The person who named the non-existent towns responds with confidence, “I got a ‘D’ in geography.”

This is a cliché joke. Misplaced confidence is a cornerstone of situational humour, often at the expense of a character who lacks the self-awareness to even understand how little they know. It is a broad concept, and it can be applied in a number of different ways. Having a character assert their authority by boasting about barely attaining a pass grade is a fairly standard example of how the set-up works. However, Damo & Ivor cannot leave the joke hang. Ivor has to explain the joke by responding, “That’s not even good.” It sucks the oxygen out of the scene.

Later in the film, a character gets stung by a jellyfish. Given the tone of Damo & Ivor, the conversation inevitably turns to the possibility of urine neutralising the sting. Again, this is such a familiar routine that it borders on cliché; Damo & Ivor is very clearly influenced by the same school of sit-com humour that would have built an entire subplot around this gag in Friends. It’s not a bad joke, if the film insists on going for literal toilet humour, even if it is not especially original.

 

However, Damo & Ivor insists on pushing the familiar joke even further. Instead of pointing out the joke – public urination on another person is apparently hilarious – the film opts to double-down on the crass punchline. Damo steps in to remedy the situation, but can only do so much. “I’m all out,” he complains, “does anyone else want to p!ss on him?” His friend pauses before replying, “No, but I can feel a sh!t coming on if that’s any use?” The logic of the gag is obvious; one bodily function is funny, a second is hilarious. It is also very lazy and very simple.

Damo & Ivor follows this pattern for most of its runtime. Indeed, the film seems to fixate upon gags that were tired when they were introduced. An early scene plays on the old gag about young men masturbating into socks, carrying it well past its logical extreme. Again, this is a familiar gag to anybody who has seen American Pie. However, Damo & Ivor returns to that gag repeatedly, making it seem less amusing each and every time. There is a lot of this in Damo & Ivor, the repetition of a mildly amusing gag to the point that it becomes a minor annoyance.

To be fair, Damo & Ivor understands exactly where it is pitching itself. Barring a few crass (and lazy) jokes at the expense of the Travelling Community, which the film makes a point to half-heartedly try to redeem at the climax, Damo & Ivor is inoffensive. It is familiar. It is safe. It is offering viewers familiar with the television show more of the same. It feels very much like a television special that escaped into cinemas. It offers little in the way of surprise, and even less in the way of ambition.

This is perhaps the biggest issue with Damo & Ivor. The film doesn’t fail, if only because it takes so few chances. It’s a road movie that travels safely within the speed limit and sticks to the roads well-travelled.

I don’t normally rate films, but the Audi Dublin International Film Festival asks the audience to rank a film from 1 (worst) to 4 (best). In the interest of full and frank disclosure, I ranked this film: 2

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