Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Ireland House Loves: Kings

No, we're not talking about that somewhat fun game if you have a game group of kids (a good friend Kyle Sharp, one of his buddies from Albany, Dickie, has the best rule ever to play if you get the chance: Have everyone say their last word twice. Example: "I think it's your turn turn." Amazing).

The Ireland House is one of my favorite places from NYU, and in fact, probably in the city. It's a hub bub of older Irishmen and Irish-Americans and a few students peppered in. They hold events all the time from concerts to readings to lectures, it's incredibly informative and interesting and they try as hard as possible to really explore both stereotypes and the misunderstood notions while celebrating the more fun aspects of Irish culture.

They had a screening of Kings tonight, a heavily nominated Irish Film and Television Award winner from last year that never made it to the States with any impact. The most notable star is Colm Meaney, and the film is mostly in Gaelic which is wonderful, with some English peppered in.

The film concerns 5 immigrants from Connemara, young lads who travel to London in search of more opportunity in labor work. The picture mostly takes place in 2007 where they gather in a pub to celebrate and toast one of their own who was killed in a subway "accident." The story is almost stagnantly told through overcooked flashbacks filmed like a flashback from Cold Case or something. Only until the end do you really get a sense of where the heart of the matter lies, and it's a very uneven piece, but notable for several things. The biggest problem is adapting from a play, it's not quite as cinematic as it could have been, and the dialogue is heavy handed and a bit bland at times. While the characters become heated and then calm back down numerous times, which can reflect how conversations work in real life, but the shifts are awkward here.

First off, Colm Meaney, even though a lot of people know him from Star Trek, he is an amazing actor with a huge range. He's one of those actors with incredible conviction, and when he does comedy, it's even more fun to watch him at work. The way he pulls his chin in, which I think is almost a signature move, always denotes some sort of intense thought, and he's somewhat miles ahead of the rest of the actors in the film.

I think the best thing about the film is it's treatment of alcohol and its relationship to the characters in the film. Sure it's blatant, but by the end, you kind of see how the film provokes, however simply, the notion that its not the drink that's the problem, it's actually a horrible band-aid for some who have become rife with despair and isolation as an immigrant, and for others, it's something to escape but comes back to this theme of the Irish immigrant psyche of denial and victimization that ebbs and flows with whiskey and beer.

The film I don't think presents drinking as a stereotype; but rather, it dissects drinking as a focused conflict for Jackie, the deceased character, and Mairtin, a somewhat unhappily married man who has given up drinking but it has distanced him from his friends and he still fights with his wife over it.

For Jackie, who perishes in front of a subway train, he goes sober only to loose his life. He chooses a clean path and yet, is the one who goes first. His scant little dialogue concerns his disconnect, and maybe drinking brings him closer or in effect farther away from his emotional problems. It's a fine line. He gives up this vice of alcoholism in hopes that he'll become better after not being considered for a job by Meaney's character Joe, who has since become a successful construction businessman. Joe doesn't hire any Irishmen in his crews; possibly because the fear of too much drinking, but also a possible rejection of his own background. His questions are harsher and more real after his sobriety, about how he has lost his specific Irish identity, which used to be diverse but under the English lens he's just "Irish", which happens when you are generalized as an immigrant. His desire to go back home is not an easy decision, neither is it for Git and Jap, because they have been away for so long, their lives have matured in a way that they can neither help nor be too proud of, and that's the thing they must improve on, not a romanticized ideal of how things used to be. They are trapped.

Mairtin, who tries to go sober like Jackie and follow his example, becomes more burdened at home due to his wife's not trusting of his ability to do so. Presenting two sober characters who in fact emotionally are unhappy is an interesting thing to do; it can say that drinking is not the problem, rather it's the other oppressive things. But at the same time, looking at the causes of such alcoholism among the Irish at the time in London, is it a way out, a blissful solution to those problems that has manifested itself as a misconstrued stereotype? By presenting drinking as a conflict of interest and self-awareness, the film just lets the characters drink, or not drink, in a natural state; they don't drink because they are Irish, they drink because being Irish in that situation oftentimes is in the context of an uphill battle. The drinking can, however, mirror this idea of denial in their psyche; that their problems can be tossed away for a little while, or that this is a crutch that is necessary to keep going. There's a lot to work with here I think, beyond the film's initial and very stiff boundaries. Alcohol is part of a cycle that never seems to break, especially for Jap and Git, the heaviest drinkers of the clan at present. That is very relevant to the Irish condition and culture that has perpetuated from so many years of oppression and opposition and strife. Jackie was left behind; it wasn't the fact that he did or didn't drink; it was that his disconnect from his friends, either through unemployment, poor direction, alcoholism, or geographical disconnect with his father, Michil, pushed him as an immigrant into a hopeless, endless well.

Their assurances while having a long night of getting hammered are tossed aside because of the nature of Jackie's death, which is revealed to be a suicide. It throws almost everyone for a loop, and causes the breakdown of the evening's mostly festive nature. Jap, the most wildly up and down of the characters, does an impressive 180 by the end, and the title is brought up in the context that these men, now aging, could have been something, could have been Kings. How so, one asks, with so many faults among all of them? That affinity for the ideals of finding a better life didn't play out well for these characters at all.

Overall the film really plods along and the set ups are kind of uninspired; due to the theatricality of the dialogue, often the actors are caught more posturing than naturally carrying out the conversations. The Gaelic spoken is natural however; the sounds are great and helps to give a bit of color to the proceedings, but still the film could have been streamlined a little better and made better use of Jackie's ghost and the flashbacks. The language becomes a huge part of the film that was not in the all-English play; the idea of holding onto the native language among the group is essential to the spirit of these characters whether they reject it or embrace it, and throughout the film is a constant reminder of the best of what they represent to themselves and the bonds between each other. The different voices between Git, Jap, Joe, and somber Jackie are especially good to see.

If you want to check out more about Kings, go to IMDB or Amazon. Here's the trailer from YouTube:

For more on the Ireland House, go to their official site where they have an events calendar.

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