* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 September 2004 at Loews Boston Common #16 (Boston Film Festival)
The Boys From County Clare is kind of a topsy-turvy movie, with the familiar character actors in the lead and the good-looking romantic pairing in supporting roles. If Miramax picks up the rights, you can almost guarantee a cover that focuses on Andrea Corr and Shaun Evans with Bernard Hill and Colm Meaney nowhere in sight.
Hill and Meaney play brothers, John Joe and Jim, who learned to play the fiddle at their father's knee and now, forty years later, have only their passion for traditional Irish Ceili music in common. John Joe (Hill) is a lifelong bachelor, still working their father's old farm in County Clare; his band has won the top prize at Ireland's largest folk festival two years running. He and Jim (Meaney) haven't talked for twenty-four years, during which time Jim has married five times while becoming a millionaire builder in Liverpool, but now he's put together a ceili band of his own and aims to win the trophy himself. John Joe's band includes Anne, a supremely talented (and beautiful) fiddler played by musician Andrea Corr; Jim's includes Teddy, a shy fellow played by newcomer Shaun Evans.
Anne's mother Maisie (Charlotte Bradley) is also in John Joe's band, and this fact should allow even folks who have never seen a movie before to figure out how this one goes; the family feud isn't just about who has possession of their father's fiddle. The conclusion, especially, is telegraphed early and often. Still, the screenplay works around its difficulty in deciding just what it wants to be (I nearly shamed myself by using the sniglet "dramedy" to describe this movie, but that's a rant for another day), and director John Irvin keeps the melodrama around Anne and Maisie seldom clashes jarringly with the occasionally-cartoonish parts of the brothers' musical rivalry and Jim's band of oddballs.
I should probably say something about the music, but beyond knowing that Andrea Corr does this stuff for a living (as part of The Corrs), I know pretty much nothing about Irish music. In particular, all the ceili numbers sounded alike to me, although there's enough dialogue about the finer details and scenes the focus on performance almost exclusively to suggest that writer Nicholas Adams knows his stuff. Of course, John Joe and Jim might have been selecting identical songs as a way to show that they're still connected no matter how much they don't get along.
The cast is good, individually, and plays well off each other, although I question casting Hill and Meaney as brothers. They really don't look a bit alike, their accents don't match, and the apparent age difference between the characters in the "present" (circa 1968) belies how close in age they are in the flashback to 1926 that opens the movie. Hill gets the more reserved, affable part, while Meaney's blustering, obnoxious Jim is more likely to stick in the audience's memory (he gets the last word, with gusto). Corr and Evans likably play likable young people; Evans gets and "Introducing" credit while Ms. Corr gets billed before the title along with Meaney & Hill, so I gather someone sees them as being movie stars, though it's tough to tell from these supporting roles.
The Boys From County Clare is a good little movie. I went because I couldn't remember ever seeing Colm Meaney in a lead role before (though he's probably had more character roles than all the other supporting actors on every Star Trek series combined) and found myself at least enjoying the funny bits, even if two vomit-related gags is at least one too many. The serious bits are a bit iffier, especially around the Anne/Teddy/Maisie resolution, but not enough to seriously detract from the film.