It’s been twelve years since Thaddeus O’Sullivan gave us Ordinary Decent Criminal, one of the worst Irish films ever committed to celluloid but thankfully his new offering Stella Days is a more enjoyable affair.
Martin Sheen plays Fr. Daniel Barry who feels trapped in purgatory waiting patiently to pass on to a higher place. Purgatory comes in the form of a small 1950s Irish village in Tipperary where he has been assigned and spends his time giving the last rights ad nauseum and listening to the confessions of his flock. He longs to leave and is waiting for his Bishop to grant him leave to return to Rome where he can finish his studies. The Bishop has other ideas and has no intention of releasing Fr. Barry until the money is secured for his new church. The building of a small cinema is Fr. Barry’s way to raise his contribution for the church and keep his faith.
Sheen’s performance is very good but you get the impression that he wasn’t exactly stretched to his acting limits with the role. He plays a somewhat unorthodox Priest who is more interested in music and embracing modern technology than whether or not the church will have 5 or 6 stained-glass windows.
Stephen Rea plays a teacher who can’t stand Fr. Barry and abhors the notion of a cinema which which will only show smut and filth, ultimately leading to the very demise of civilisation. Rea’s performance is very satisfactory but he’s just playing a character we’ve seen so often.
That’s one of the main problems with Stella Days, it’s all very “nice”, the adjective no one wants to hear. Thaddeus has done a lot of work for television and this is how the film comes across, a TV movie perfect for a Sunday’s afternoon viewing with your Mum and Dad. There are good elements such as marital troubles, examining the role the church played in education and people’s daily lives but it carries no real weight and while touching slightly controversial subjects, I doubt anyone would really take offence from this. It’s speckled with humour but relies a bit too much pre-conceived stereotypes for most of the laughs.
For a film which tries to show the magic, wonder and unifying power of cinema it falls very short in its execution. By no means a bad film but not necessarily one you should be rushing out to the cinema to catch, as no doubt it’ll be on Irish television in a few months.
Ireland / Directed By: Thaddeus O’Sullivan / Written By: Antoine O. Flatharta / Starring: Martin Sheen, Stephen Rea, Amy Huberman / 100min / Drama / Release: 9 March 2012 (UK/Irl)