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Non-Review Review: Dublin Oldschool

Dublin Oldschool is a pillpopping, soulsearching, trainspotting Ulysses.

Following its central character on what effectively amounts to a bank-holiday-weekend-long bender, Dublin Oldschool is an ode to the idea of Dublin as a village. It is a celebration of the nation’s capital as a place where you are always where you needs to be, even if you don’t know exactly where you’re going. It’s a moving meditation on that intangible spirit of the city, on the metaphorical rivers that move through it, guiding its residents along journeys that they don’t always comprehend.

To beach’s own.

Befitting its protagonist, who spends most of the movie lost in a hazy of exotic substances and bouncing from one crisis to another, Dublin Oldschool is loose, rambling, a little indulgent. The movie isn’t afraid to wander, to take its time getting to where it’s going, to soak in the characters and the dynamics. However, that’s kinda the point. There is an endearing mellowness to Dublin Oldschool, even in its most sombre and serious moments, a sense of a film that is drifting to where it is supposed to be.

There’s something endearing in that idea.

Urban wild life.

Dublin Oldschool is adapted from the original stage play written by leading actor Emmet Kirwan. Assisted by director Dave Tynan, Kirwan skillfully transitions his narrative from stage to screen. Watching Dublin Oldschool, it is almost impossible to imagine the narrative existing in any other form. The rhythm and tempo of the story feel perfectly suited to the material, with Kirwan and Tynan crafting a genuine urban odyssey for Jason, their lead character.

Tynan deserves particular credit for how much of Dublin he brings to the screen. There are relatively few establishing shots in Dublin Oldschool, almost none once the story gets moving. There are very few wide angle shots designed to help orient the audience, to provide a tourist snapshot of the city centre. Indeed, one of the characters even jokes about his desire to stay away from O’Connell Street on his travels through the city.

Mocking Jay.

However, even without this cinematic shorthand, Tynan manages to convey the essence of the city on screen. Even as he keeps the camera focused on the characters, residents of the city will recognise the geography; the intersection of Dame Street and Patrick Street, the newly refurbished Smithfield, the promenades along the edge of the Liffey. The Liffey itself becomes something of a recurring visual motif in Dublin Oldschool, with Jason constant crossing over and back across the city’s myriad bridges.

This is true to the reality of navigating Dublin, as any resident will attest. No journey in the city can truly be considered an adventure without crossing from one side to another. However, the Liffey serves as an important thematic market, frequently captured over Jason’s shoulder or on the edge of the frame. It is a reminder of the invisible forces that guide and shape people, even without their knowledge. In his opening monologue, Jason likens time to a river and accepts that the best he can do is hope to ride it.

A can-do attitude.

This all sounds a little pretentious, and perhaps that is point. After all, the defining narrative of Dublin City is arguably that of hapless wandering and navigation based on nothing but chance. It is reflected in the city’s architecture, cobbled together over centuries and decades so that Georgian townhouses can stand beside grim seventies office complexes and sleek milliennial hot spots. Dublin is a city erected by chance rather than by design, built up and knocked down at random over its long history, and yet somehow fitting together in the only way imaginable.

The urban landscape of Dublin Oldschool reflects this, with Jason spending most of the film wandering through the warrens of terraced houses nestled in the city centre, the bungalows that exist tucked away just off the main thoroughfares and the alleyways that connect the riverside to the inner city. Repeatedly, Dublin Oldschool suggests that the entire city is unknowable. Jason obviously has his familiar locations, but repeatedly has to ask other wayward travelers to direct him to where he needs to be; to “the little park” or “the rat house.”

Never to far afield.

Of course, this geography of Dublin is much narrative as literal. The defining story of Dublin remains James Joyce’s Ulysses, and it feels strangely appropriate that Dublin Oldschool should receive a theatrical release only a fortnight after Bloomsday. In that easy-to-admire-yet-hard-to-love classic, Joyce offers something close to a rambling and indulgent biography of the city; a world populated by characters all embarking on their own journeys across its face. It is no surprise that walking tours of Dublin are among the most prominent legacies of Ulysses.

There is something of Ulysses in Dublin Oldschool, filtered through the self-awareness and the wit of Kirwan and Tynan’s script. That self-awareness and wit seem entirely appropriate; what story could claim to be a great Irish novel that didn’t have a surplus of both? Dublin Oldschool is punctuated with lyrical voice-over from Jason, who offers his reflections and insights into the workings of the city, his own meandering life, and his quickly escaping youth.

A spot of brother bother.

These voice-overs walk the line between insightful and absurd, befitting the observations of a young man tripping balls as he drifts through the world like flotsam. Dublin Oldschool is too canny and too clever to trust Jason entirely, aware of the fact that he is still the little boy who appears in the brief flashbacks scattered throughout the film. “Grow up, Jason!” his ex-girlfriend advises him after one particularly ill-judged encounter. Dublin Oldschool understands that Jason must, even as it remains unsure that he can.

Dublin Oldschool benefits from a strong cast. Kirwan anchors the film, a compelling dichotomy; Kirwan plays Jason as a fool stumbling randomly through a maze that he has constructed as a writer. It’s a compelling central performance. Kirwan is ably supported by a wealth of strong, young Irish talent. Ian Lloyd Anderson offers a heart wrenching performance as Daniel, Jason’s (somehow even more lost) elder brother. However, the best performance in the film is that of Seana Kerslake, as Gemma; Jason’s already-lost and soon-to-be-departed ex-girlfriend.

Danny boy.

There are some minor hiccups along the way. Dublin Oldschool occasionally feels a little too contrived in its plotting. The film argues for Dublin as some sort of cosmic karmic Lego set, where everything just fits together, but there are moments when the intersections seem too smooth and too perfect in their construction. Similarly, there are moments when it seems like Jason might get a little bit too high on his own supply when it comes to his voiceover narration, likening Wicklow to the Mekong Delta.

However, the appeal of Dublin Oldschool is that even these weaknesses can get folded back into strengths, the clarity of the design excused as the apophenia of a perfect high. Dublin Oldschool is a movie with charm and heart. If the movie can forgive Jason his excesses, perhaps the audience can do same for the film.

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