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Non-Review Review: The Delinquent Season

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

“You’re a f&!king cliché!” one character screams at another during a particularly heated moment in The Delinquent Season.

That’s a dangerous line to put into a screenplay, particularly in what is supposed to be an intimate character-driven drama. The line skirts the boundaries of self-awareness, inviting the audience to consider it as a statement of authorial intent. It takes genuine courage to force the audience to assess whether the character in question really just “a f&!king cliché”? Obviously, the film believes that its central characters are more than just a collection of familiar tropes repackaged and reheated, but it takes confidence to stare the viewer right in the eye and broach the question.

“Look, it’s this or Infinity War.”

The Delinquent Season certainly has lofty goals. It aspires to be provocative and confrontational, to push the audience a little bit out of their comfort zone by asking them to empathise with characters who are abrasive and awkward. The Delinquent Season seems to genuinely hope that the audience might find its central characters to evoke strong emotions; to feel pity or hatred or anger at their decisions and their actions. There are points watching The Delinquent Season where writer and director Mark O’Rowe is goading the audience to hate these characters.

Unfortunately, The Delinquent Season never even considers that the audience might be bored by these four particular characters.

Table this for later.

Mark O’Rowe can claim to be one of the most influential Irish writers of the twenty-first century on stage and screen. The writer is credited on a variety of films including Intermission and Broken, but he is known primarily for his plays. O’Rowe is one of the country’s most respected playwrights, his work regularly featured on the stage of the national theatre, whether in the Abbey or in the Peacock.

The Delinquent Season marks O’Rowe’s feature film directorial debut. Perhaps this explains why the film feels so staged and so staid. O’Rowe structures his script in such a way as to make concessions to the screen, including an awkward bookend and a variety of different locations and set-ups. However, the whole thing feels like it could easily have been written for the stage as an intimate abstract drama with four primary roles.

Kitchen table drama.

The staging would certainly be more inventive than that employed with The Delinquent Season, which feels like a very safe and conservative adaptation. O’Rowe seems uncertain of what exactly to do with a camera, uncomfortable with the more direct control of a character’s perspective that cinema offers when compared to the relative distance of the stage. The Delinquent Season feels very static and inert, as one might expect from a director transitioning from one medium to another. However, it also feels rather lifeless.

The script is admittedly an issue here. The issue is not so much that The Delinquent Season feels like an adaptation of a stage play for television, it is that The Delinquent Season feels like a particularly unimpressive stage play for television. The Delinquent Season plays with big ideas in a potentially daring way. The movie focuses on the intersection of four lives, of two romantic couples caught in orbit of one another. Boundaries are crossed, transgressions are made. Inevitably, the illusion of stability is shattered under the weight of lies.

All’s affair in love and war.

There are several core issues with The Delinquent Season. The most obvious is that none of the characters are especially interesting. O’Rowe consciously teases the audience by making these characters unlikable, which is an intriguing idea in theory. After all, it is possible to build compelling drama around completely unsympathetic protagonists; The Social Network, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nightcrawler. It is entirely possible to tell an engaging story with a central character who repulses the audience.

The issue is not that the central characters of The Delinquent Season are self-absorbed or self-obsessed, that they are selfish and manipulative. The issue is that they are boring. The four central characters in The Delinquent Season never develop beyond familiar archetypes, never achieving anything resembling complexity or nuance. The characters in The Delinquent Season are unlikable, but they are unlikable in completely banal ways. However provocative the script might be, it cannot transcend that fundamental flaw.

Reasonably Adequate Scott!

Indeed, the potentially interesting interpersonal dynamics in The Delinquent Season are undercut by the act of narrative contrivance. In order for O’Rowe to deliver on his premise, his characters have to make spectacularly terrible decisions on a continuous basis in order to sustain the narrative. It isn’t that these characters fall out of the “bad decision” tree, it’s that they hit every single branch on the way down. These characters don’t feel like human beings, but instead like pre-programmed automatons. O’Rowe-bots, if you will.

This issue is compounded by the fact that The Delinquent Season feels woefully over-extended. O’Rowe chooses to break certain key scenes with a very pronounced fade to black. This only feeds into the sense that The Delinquent Season is a recycled stage play, recalling the way that such plays cut the lights between scenes to allow the set to be redressed. This repeated fade to black teases the possibility of an ending to the drama, which inexplicably continues a solid half-hour past its climax. The Delinquent Season is interminable, unlike one of its four central characters.

Couching it all in familiar terms.

All of this is a shame, as O’Rowe has the ingredients for a potentially compelling interpersonal drama. The premise is reasonably solid, even if The Delinquent Season never earns the drama that it tries to wring from the set-up. The cast is fantastic, with Cillian Murphy doing the best that he can to elevate the material. Eva Birthistle is impressive in an under-developed supporting role. Nevertheless, all of this potential is squandered by sharp turns into indulgent melodrama and gestures toward unearned profundity.

The Delinquent Season is a disappointing cinematic debut for one of Ireland’s most interesting and intriguing writers, although it’s hard to know how much blame to apportion to O’Rowe as director compared to O’Rowe as writer.

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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