Trying to Get Out: White Irish Drinkers

Trying to Get Out:

White Irish Drinkers



The title is bad enough, and that’s for sure; but when I heard the joke about the Irish seven-course meal—a six-pack and a potato, har-de-har har, I knew I was in trouble.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one:  there’s these two working class Irish American kids in Brooklyn, see; and one is the good brother and one is the bad.  The good one is quiet and reserved and has a secret talent—he is a promising artist—and the bad one is…well, he’s a thug, really.  Oh, and a petty thief, something he’s not all that great at. And he’s quick with the punches. And he has a fag perpetually hanging from his gob. And they have this drunken pig of a father who is also pretty handy with his fists and quick to use them.  Then there’s the long-suffering mammy and she’s had a life of cleaning up broken plates and things and watching her longshoreman oaf of a husband burning the bills.  But she stays with him because that’s what the good old Catholic Church tells her to do.  Get the picture?  Ever seen this before?

And you know what?  It’s a shame because there really is a lot of good stuff in here.  Writer and director John Gray apparently draws heavily from his own background and sets the action in 1975, something that works well, and the dialogue is sharp and believable. (“They’ve got this computer; the fuckin’ thing is so small it fits in one room.”)  So why he had to take his time and energy and put it into a story that leaves no cliché unturned is one of life’s mysteries.

Brian Leary (Nick Thurston) is a personable 18-year old who is happiest when helping out Whitey (Peter Riegert, the likable but always down on his luck owner of the Lafayette, a dilapidated movie theatre in the heart of the blue-collar Irish community.  Whitey doesn’t exactly have his finger on the pulse as he looks knowingly at a poster for The Rocky Horror Picture Show and announces sagely that he’ll give this piece of shit a week and then it’ll never be heard from again.  But when Brian mentions the Rolling Stones a light bulb goes off in his head.

Meanwhile Brian’s own head is opening up just slightly as his friend Todd (Zachary Booth) has opted for college.  Not that Todd strikes me as overwhelmingly ambitious but apparently in the Bay Ridge neighbourhood this is a hell of a drastic step and one that is viewed almost with fright by his stuck-in-a-rut contemporaries.  They definitely resent one of their own trying to get out and Todd is referred to as the ‘college snob.’  So, with a precedent being set, will Nick use his obviously genuine artistic talent in order to escape?

Always in the background there are his parents Patrick and Margaret (Stephen Lang and Karen Allen) and the loutish older brother Danny (Geoffrey Wigdor); and even Brian himself seems ambivalent about escape.

White Irish Drinkers is actually two years old now, but I only came across it this week.

As I indicated, I think that there is a real film– and one with a heart– attempting to get out from under a pile of scenes that you’ve watched a hundred times; and the acting can’t be faulted.  Particularly worth a mention is the very natural Leslie Murphy who plays the travel agent Shauna, perhaps the one person with real ambition.

So it’s a shame that it embarrasses more than it entertains.  I really wish that I could recommend it but it just never manages to rise above its own material.


Whatever about the film itself, there’s a song in it that plays over the beginning and end credits.  Damn, but it took me ages to get this out of my head.  It’s called Pop and comes from the Shillaly Brothers.  See below.



Author: Charley Brady

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