How About You? Directed by: Anthony Byrne Cast: Brenda Fricker, Vanessa Redgrave, Hayley Atwell, Imelda Staunton, Joss Ackland Running Time: 1 hr 20 min Rating: R Opens: Dec. 12 in Portland at Hollywood Theatre
Plot: A young, irresponsible woman (Hayley Atwell) is left in charge of her sister’s retirement home, where she has to deal with the antics of four damaged and irascible seniors.
Who’s It For? Anyone who’s lost the will to continue looking for the remote control (it’s in the icebox—Doh!).
Expectations: I had zero ideas about this movie and sometimes that’s a very good thing (The Full Monty, The Fall, Below), and sometimes it leaves you feeling blindfolded and disoriented. Obviously, I hoped for the former.
Hayley Atwell as Ellie: She’s gorgeous and talented, but the character development feels like it didn’t even make it out of the bare-bones sketch-phase. Truly though, this girl could pick her nose and still look beautiful, and she’s real. She has a real body and real hips—I’d say give it another five years before Hollywood has gotten its fangs into her, and she’s half-starved, boob enhanced, and alien-faced. At that point, she’ll probably be a household name.
Imelda Staunton as Hazel: I love Imelda Staunton, because she was the wonderfully iniquitous Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. She also has the most interesting role as Hazel, an anxious, neurotic shut-in who yearns to meet the son she gave up for adoption 35 years prior. The whole movie should have focused on the relationship between Hazel and her sister, Heather.
Vanessa Redgrave as Georgia: Georgia is the dried up stage actress who wears turbans and drinks too many martinis. She is apt to prance around and bemoan her lost youth. We have seen this character a trillion-frillion times.
Brenda Fricker as Heather: Fricker is the bomb. The first time I saw her was in 1992’s My Left Foot, as Daniel Day Lewis’ mother—a role that earned her an academy award. Again, in this film, she’s given one of the more engaging roles as the dominating and overprotective sister to timid Hazel, and again, the movie didn’t spend enough time (like all of its time) on Heather and Hazel.
Joss Ackland as Donald: Donald is cantankerous. He orders people around. He is the lone speck of testosterone in a wild, frenzied sea of estrogen. At one point, he tells a poignant story about how he used to be an alcoholic. If the movie had removed him completely, there would be absolutely no void, because this movie fills any vacuum with its oozy mundane quicksand.
Talking: If not for the accents and all the swearing, I would’ve been bored into catatonia. The film centers around the life experience of the four seniors, but it jumps around with maddening ADHD, never spending enough time with any one individual to let you learn much about them or care. I did like the line where Heather asks Donald, “…And when are you going to go get f**ked?” for its utter sauciness. The movie snorted, woke up a little, and then went back to dozing.
Sights: The film itself looks like a made-for-TV movie, but I’m sure they were working with a fairly sparse budget. Almost the entire story takes place in the retirement home, so we don’t get any shots of the Irish countryside, the bustle of the larger cities, or the pastoral folksiness of more rural areas. The only aspect that keeps the movie from being an all-out snoozefest is Atwell, who is so naturally stunning from every angle it’s like a sunrise every time she’s in the shot.
Sounds: Remember those tiny old Casios that would play preset, plinkety-plink tunes, such as “samba” and “waltz?” If so, you have a pretty firm grasp on how this movie sounds. There was one tune in particular, which I came to recognize as the “wait for the shenanigans” song, promising something really wacky and funny on the horizon, and then Donald would call Ellie at 5:30 in the morning and ask for eggs over easy; “wait for the shenanigans” song—and Heather just threw a grape at Ellie; “wait for the shenanigans” song—Georgia asks Ellie to pluck her nose hairs (really). Holy cow, it’s like the boring Olympics and the whole audience is too busy watching the grass grow to stop and cheer.
I was in Dublin when The Wind that Shakes the Barley was released and I know what a huge deal it is for the Irish to produce purely Irish films. There is an enormous amount of pride around films homegrown in Ireland and the majority of Americans can’t relate. When we release movies, there isn’t a swell of: “By Gad, that’s American!” Mostly because we live in a constant state of America the World, and some of us aren’t too sure about all those shady allegations about the supposed “other countries.”
So, I can understand why How About You is probably an object of great love and pride to its country of origin, which is what makes it difficult to cut it down for its boring and uninspired amateurism. Picking on dull American films is easier and more fun, because our film industry is so established, not to mention bloated and vain and belligerent. Finding fault with How About You feels like I’m criticizing someone’s newborn for not being able to compete in a triathlon. At the same time, this sweet and unassuming little film fails to meet any of its own basic objectives. It would be far more insulting to pat the Irish film industry on the head than to just call a spade a spade.
Final Score: 3/10