This review originally appeared following the film’s premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh 2014.
Eternal Sunshine – ★★★★
Let’s call a spade a spade. Patrick’s Day director Terry McMahon’s last film did not do well with critics. It is the only film ever to receive a no-star rating here on Spooool.ie (look back on Páraic’s review here) and even the Galway Film Festival programmer Gar O’Brien admitted that he absolutely hated the film the first (and indeed second) time he saw it, before eventually coming round to its way of thinking. So how the hell do you go from a complete turkey like that to being a joint winner of Best Irish Feature at the 2014 Fleadh?!
Well first of all it seems you cast Moe Dunford, the finest young man to come out of Waterford since John O’Shea got on the boat to Manchester. Dunford plays our titular character Patrick, a young man suffering from schizophrenia who has been placed into hospital care by his mother Maura (Kerry Fox). On Patrick’s 26th birthday, St. Patrick’s Day, Patrick and his mother travel into Dublin city centre for a day out and a night in a hotel. Whether something clicks and he just needs to escape or not, Patrick parts with his mother and ends up in the hotel room of Karen, an air hostess with serious mental health concerns of her own (Catherine Walker). They form an unlikely alliance despite the efforts of Maura and a tired old Garda detective by the name of Freeman (played by Philip Jackson). To reveal any more about the twists and turns of the plot would be to do a dramatic story a disservice, so as Bill O’Herlihy said, “We’ll leave it there so”.
Dunford is undoubtedly the heart and soul of the film. There’s a small chance that you’ll recognise him from the small screen with credits in “Vikings” and “Raw “to his name, but to most of the audience in Galway’s Town Hall Theatre, he was a completely fresh face. Playing a character suffering from mental health problems is never going to be easy but Dunford revealed in the Q&A after the screening that he didn’t need to do much extra research for his audition as his own brother was institutionalised and incorrectly diagnosed schizophrenic as a teen. McMahon said that the actor brings a kind of “man-child” quality to the role, and its a good descriptor as the performance needed a lot of vulnerability and naivety with an underlying potential for dangerous, brute force. He nails it.
There’s a few scenes close to the end of the film that, if you’ve been swept up by the story so far, will make for absolutely harrowing viewing. If you have ever had anything to do with the mental health institutions and processes that exist in Ireland then these will make for very tough viewing. Like Glassland, the writer/director took a chance with the ending and it won’t be for everyone.
There are moments with some of the supporting characters that feel like they’re working from a very different script, with the detective Freeman being a particularly troubling character that sometimes feels like he’s in another film. Some of his interplay with Patrick’s mother is just too weird to connect with but they do give the audience plenty of nervous laughs. You wonder if McMahon takes a sadistic pleasure from toying with audiences and will have gotten a kick out these quirks.
Without meaning to sound callous, whether Patrick’s Day turned out such a a great film because of Terry McMahon or in spite of him is something we’re not going to know until the man’s third feature. Unless he goes back to being in Batman films. Let’s hope Charlie Cassanova is the blip on what turns out to be a great directorial career.
Released across Ireland on February 6th 2015. Visit patricksday.ie for more.