Dublin Oldschool: Dave Tynan’s wordy, puzzling, plotless film
The screen fizzes with the talent of some of Ireland’s best actors. But it’s not enough
Jason (Emmet Kirwan), an aspiring DJ, and Daniel (Ian Lloyd Anderson), his heroin-addicted brother
Film Title: Dublin Oldschool
Director: Dave Tynan
Starring: Emmet Kirwan, Ian Lloyd Anderson, Seána Kerslake, Sarah Greene, Ciaran Grace, Mark O’Halloran, Liam Heslin, Stephen Jones
Running Time: 0 min
Dave Tynan’s puzzling, wordy, largely plotless rush through the Dublin “sesh” scene groups itself around encounters between Jason (Emmet Kirwan), an aspiring DJ, and Daniel (Ian Lloyd Anderson), his hitherto absent, heroin-addicted brother.
“How do you go from yokes to gear?” Daniel asks as they meander about central Dublin. Kirwan punches the lines with gleeful sincerity. The excellent Lloyd Anderson, a ball of desperate charisma and skewed intelligence, is convincingly weighed down by a misery he can’t fully rationalise. Their scenes work well as an advertisement for the two-man play – a critical smash for Kirwan in 2014 – from which the film was adapted.
Sadly, those sequences stand starkly apart from the surrounding logorrheic mayhem. So discrete are Daniel’s appearances – does anybody other than Jason see him? – one begins to wonder if he may be a figment of Jason’s imagination. Maybe he is. Maybe the film is as close to the work of M Night Shyamalan as it is to the unavoidable Trainspotting.
Danny Boyle’s adaptation of that Irvine Welsh book was, for all its demerits, confident in its characters, sure in its environment and certain of its narrative direction.
We get an unmistakable nod in that direction early on with a hectic chase through the streets of the capital. We get another when the largely urban characters – Sarah Greene offers rare country vowels – head towards Wicklow for drugs (you can confidently add “plus drugs” to any synopsis in this review) and a contemplation of the national condition.
Whereas Welsh gave us welcome Lowland cynicism, Kirwan and Tynan ladle on a quasi-poetic romanticism that, no doubt successful on stage, too often curdles on screen. It’s everywhere. “A thousand claws [scrape] every vertebrae,” apparently. I regret to say that someone bears witness to “the heat death of the universe”.
That overreaching tone has, at least, the virtue of consistency when it stays within Jason’s head, but, as the film progresses, other characters take up the linguistic baton. Too many people speak (or think) in the same voice.
The film strives for authenticity and, going murkily among the right locations, J J Rolfe’s fine cinematography offers a convincing image of a Dublin bacchanalia that has changed little over the decades. There are whole generations who will wallow nostalgically in the exhausting depictions of what drug does what damage to which part of the willing brain.
Dig past those images, however, and the film’s mechanism rattles a little. It is not clear (despite the title) to what extent we’re dealing with elder chemical warlords returning to unfinished battles. Kirwan has recently acknowledged that he attended Trinity College at the same time as the Taoiseach. He looks good on it, but he still seems a wee bit old for this class of extreme party going.
Other actors are younger. People of colour are conspicuous by their near-complete absence. Too much seems just a few semitones off perfect pitch.
Nobody could fault the film-makers’ sincerity. Tynan has cast in depth and invited our best actors to flesh out some sketchily drawn roles. The most annoying of the drug bores (the very worst sort of bores) are clearly meant to be that way. Seána Kerslake and Sarah Greene add different colours to the after-hours gloom. The reliably charismatic Mark O’Halloran delivers a lovely cameo as an older record fanatic with a store of angular wisdom. Observational nuggets ring bells: “Dublin’s not a city. It’s a village.”
None of this can fully compensate for the slackness of the plot. One is ultimately reminded of Kirsten Sheridan’s honourable struggle to make cinema of Enda Walsh’s equally acclaimed play Disco Pigs. Talent fizzes off the screen. But we’re not quite where we should be. Nearly. Close enough. But not quite there.
Opens: June 29th