“White Irish Drinkers” is a neighborhood (Brooklyn) drama, from director and Brooklyn native John Gray. It’s set in 1975 and about an ages-old clash between siblings, the “good” and the “bad,” in an abusive metropolitan working-class family.
Broadly, though, it’s about a tight circle of neighborhood family and friends, and their choices in life. This circle reminds us of almost any South Boston or Irish Brooklyn movie, where the family shivers for fear their fisty and tipsy dad.
This plays at Minneapolis’ Lagoon Cinema for a week from April 29th.
This talented, above average film-maker, Mr. Gray, uses stock, archetypical characters: the bruising dad who drinks at least half of his working class pay, the meek wife who stays because of her children, and those two children who fill little angel and devil roles: we have the sensitive, not understood artistic type vs. the back alley, incorrigible & petty criminal. But how the film-maker uses these types, and adds layers, makes the difference.
But this takes a remarkable detour from the work-a-day people from 1993′s “Amongst Friends,” 1997′s “Good Will Hunting” and 2007′s “Gone Baby Gone.” “White Irish Drinkers” is about choices (short-term and short-sighted one) and goals, and reconciling those.
The characters are drawn with more nuance and concern than usual for this genre: each of them is given more brush strokes and more layers of “realism” than we usually have in a gritty, urban, working-class, just scraping by story. Dad actively shows weakness and warmth in the middle of the story, at just the moment where we expect the non-thinking hothead to choose a son for either a tongue lashing or a bashing.
Instead after the boys’ dinner time carousing, he’s roused from his nap, and is reminded of a moment when one of them, aged 6 or 7, was at a hospital. He’s sentimental, and it’s sincere. The performance harkens to a different one in 1995′s “The Possession of Michael D” on TV.
Brian (Nick Thurston): the artist finds accidental love with a strong, ambitious woman, who isn’t as hard-skinned as she’d convinced herself she is. Danny (Geoff Wigdor) is not a foregone screw-up.
There’s a vignette about the brothers’ bond that is conveyed by a series of tiny scenes where the boys are camping with a skimpy bed-sheet-like tent. While Danny is free to beat on Brian, it wasn’t so as children.
Brian has a splendid, surprising and unconventional scene where a friend tells him that a pretty lass is eyeing him, but he’s timid. So another friend seizes that moment and starts to show him up. Brian makes the only natural move for him: he walks up to a steamed up window, and draws the woman’s image with his finger – in remarkable detail. Slowly his artistry draws the drinkers’ attention, including her. It’s an amazing introverts tactic for stealing the extrovert’s flirting thunder! Upon finishing it the whole bar, roused from the banal, cheers his play. You had us at the window steam drawing, even if the patrons’ enthusiasm was overwrought.
This is a witty, amusing story, which respects our intelligence. A great yarn with refreshing layers and nuance!