Director: Peter Foott
Cast: Alex Murphy, Chris Walley, PJ Gallagher
Running Time: 83min
Release Date: September 16th
For too long, Irish cinema has been synonymous with the sort of bleak realist dramas more likely to provoke an existential crisis than a belly laugh. Winning comedies have been few and far between on these shores, but recent exceptions such as The Guard and The Stag have shown that there is an appetite for home grown comedy and Irish audiences are willing to leave the house if the material is strong enough. The Young Offenders could soon join that short list of successes, and with its heady mixture of youthful irreverence and quick wit might just prove itself to be that rarest of things: an Irish comedy with genuine wider appeal.
The year is 2007 and bales of cocaine worth somewhere around €7m are washing up on the West Cork shoreline following a failed smuggling operation. When word reaches Connor (Alex Murphy) and Jock (Chris Walley), two young ne’er-do-wells floating about in post-Junior Cert limbo, they hit upon the idea of getting their hands on some of the Bolivian marching powder and becoming the Rebel County’s answers to Tony Montana.
We follow the duo as they set off on stolen bicycles, blissfully unaware that they are being tracked by an overly zealous Gardaí (Dominic McHale) who has been pushed to the brink of his sanity by Jock’s incessant thievery across Cork city. Along the way, we encounter a series of madcap characters and scenarios and are presented with an unexpected use for a Choc Ice that will ensure you never look at that ice cream in the same light again.
Writer/director Peter Foott cut his teeth on TV comedies such as Republic of Telly and music videos for the likes of The Rubberbandits and it is clear that he knows his way around a well-crafted comic setup from the get go. The first hour of the film is a sugar rush of big laughs and bad decisions with the chemistry between newcomers Murphy and Walley meaning each scene fizzes and crackles with a rare vibrancy.
It also takes time to examine some serious issues – Connor’s has strained relationship with his belittling mother while Jock must contend with an abusive alcoholic father – and while these moments are handled sensitively, it is when dabbling in gleeful anarchic comedy and male comradery that The Young Offenders is at its strongest. It never bogs itself down with moralising and lecturing is better for it, allowing the characters to have their fun without too much reprimand.
While the laughs generated by our two leads carry us along merrily for much of the film’s duration, it is not without its flaws. PJ Gallagher’s miffed drug dealer doesn’t fully connect having been introduced a little late in the yarn and his supposed menace can’t help but feel a little manufactured. Likewise, a Mexican stand-off of sorts at the culmination attempts to tie up all of and sorts ends up biting off more than it can chew.
Nonetheless, it’s been too long since a comedy as consistently funny as this has arrived on Irish shores. The film has broad appeal and could even travel well abroad (though some subtitles might be no harm to smooth out the Cork colloquialisms) and the fact that it was achieved with such budget limitations make it all the more impressive. Here’s looking forward to what they get up to next.