Roddy Doyle Ha Ha Ha

When all else fails, the Irish turn to love and laughter.

It's always nice to see an Irish film that isn't about people blowing each other up. I mean, sure, when you think terrorism you're as likely to think IRA as you are to think Islamic Jihad or whatever organization Janet Reno is currently attached to, but still, the Irish also have lots of culture that doesn't involve snipers. Stuff like Joyce and Yeats and O'Shaunessy and, you know, leprechauns and stuff. And, of course, the Irish are also known as a nation of great cooks. I mean lovers. A nation of great lovers.

Luckily, someone has finally tapped into the under-exploited topic of terrorism-free love between the Irish with the new film When Brendan Met Trudy, which features a screenplay by Booker Prize-winning novelist Roddy Doyle. This is Doyle's first screenplay that is not an adaptation of one of his novels (he had previously done scripting duty on The Commitments, Snapper and The Van.) It is, however, an adaptation of just about every movie that Doyle has ever seen, and this is its greatest strength and weakness.

Essentially, When Brendan Met Trudy tells the tale of a nerdy schoolteacher and choirboy named, shockingly, Brendan, who spends all his free time either going to movies or singing hymns. Thus, lacking social skills, his conversation is a mixture of nervous stammers and smoothly delivered quotes from his favorite films.

Obviously, as all great film buffs must know, this does little to get him laid. Luckily, he happens upon the aggressive young Trudy, who's beautiful, fun-loving, and who would never have anything to do with a guy like Brendan if it weren't for the fact that both of their names appear in the title of the film.

Of course, that's how movies work, and When Brendan Met Trudy is meant to work like every other film. It opens with Brendan lying face down in a pool of water, narrating the movie à la Sunset Boulevard. When Brendan and Trudy break up, it immediately starts raining. They walk down the street together in a mime of A Bout de Souffle. They speak in dialogue from old Westerns and Italian romances. They kiss a lot, with low lighting and romantic music and lots of tenderness and passion and holding and other such Irish activities.

This being Brendan's first foray into the world of interpersonal nudity, he's sort of stunned and overwhelmed, and spends his days at school staring out the window, ignoring his class and thinking about what the Irish call "amour." He also starts to get suspicious when Trudy vanishes each night wearing a ski mask and carrying lots of hardware.

That's exactly the kind of thing that can get a film buff worried, as his knowledge of crime films has shown him that women who sneak out at night dressed like criminals are often on their way to do something illegal, like a crime or something. Mostly, Brendan is afraid that Trudy is the notorious North Park Castrator, who has been going around castrating young men and hanging out in the park.

All of this suspicion and nervousness and delirious happy love really gives actor Peter McDonald a chance to shine in the role of Brendan. While the script is fun and the dialogue often funny, McDonald is even better than his material, and I'm not saying that just because he's cute. He's quirky without being campy, kind of like Richard Pryor not on crack cocaine.

Flora Montgomery is also good as Trudy, but she's not as good as McDonald. He really has the juicier part, though. The script paints her outer life as way more interesting than his, but focuses on his inner life, because, you know, he's the boy and his name comes first in the title. That's just how it is with the movies: The mushy romantic comedies are always aimed at the men, because we prefer cuddling to gunplay.

The lack of gunplay, and the fact that much of the humor of When Brendan Met Trudy is accessible only to film fans (even the title is a play on another film's title) might limit its audience. That's too bad, as it's genuinely entertaining and funny, something you don't get from very many Hollywood romantic comedies. Also, while the highly referential humor usually works, it occasionally becomes excessive, though the script is rescued from any flaws it might have by McDonald's acting and by the really exquisite lighting and camera work.

It's also nice that none of the films referenced are The Crying Game or Angela's Ashes or The Devil's Own or Michael Collins or Some Mother's Son or any of those other films about the Irish where the Irish are seen as drunken, violent, Guinness-swilling thugs who want nothing more than to blow up cars and eat doughy meat pies. Rather, When Brendan Met Trudy is the kind of gentle romantic comedy that such great Irish personages as Bono and Gabriel Byrne and that guy who played the engineer on Star Trek: Deep Space 9 have been waiting for. You know, the kind with hugging.

When Brendan Met Trudy is playing at Catalina (881-0616).

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