Directed by Ian Fitzgibbon. Starring Andy Serkis, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Aisling Loftus, Michael McElhatton, Sharon Horgan 15A cert, limited release, 96 min
YOU MIGHT reasonably expect a film about a dying teenager to be something of a downer. Well, the latest release from Ian Fitzgibbon, director of A Film with Me in It and Perrier’s Bounty, does work hard – and responsibly – at injecting colour into this most troubling of scenarios.
The protagonist fancies himself as a cartoonist, and very nicely rendered animations comment fantastically on his crises throughout. The stuttering relationship between the boy and a female contemporary is energised with grumpy adolescent anger. But this is ultimately a sombre movie that chooses to pull few punches.
The first-rate Thomas Brodie-Sangster plays a smart, middle-class Dublin kid named Donald Clarke (let’s just move on, shall we?). As the film begins, some time after Donald’s cancer diagnosis, the lad is becoming increasingly withdrawn from his traumatised parents (Michael McElhatton and Sharon Horgan). He is sent to talk to a steady, inhumanly patient therapist (Andy Serkis) and slowly, reluctantly begins to connect a little better with those around him.
The performances are honest and grounded throughout. It’s particularly pleasing to see the great Andy Serkis stepping away from the motion-capture, calming down by several degrees and proving that he can excel in restrained, thoughtful roles.
Andrew McCarten’s adaptation of his own novel evades sentimentality as it confronts various unhappy truths: Donald suffers night terrors; he acidly asks fellow patients what they are going to do when they grow up. However, for all its integrity, the film does ultimately feel a little short on plot.
So many bases are covered that, from time to time, Death of a Superhero comes across more like an educational tool than a fully fleshed-out drama. We don’t quite ask that a teen drama take on the relentless fatalism of Michael Haneke’s Amour. A little more narrative would, however, have been welcome.
An impressive piece, nonetheless.