Drinking Crude (1996)

D: Owen McPolin
S: Andrew Scott, James Quarton, Eva Birthistle

A teenager frustrated with life in boring, conservative Ireland (Andrew Scott) decides to emigrate to London and seek his fortune. He bumps into a shifty but helpful Scotsman (James Quarton) who agrees to help the lad out. He then finds himself cleaning out oil tankers and learns what the world really has to offer him. But to his horror, his travels on the job take him back to Ireland, and on arriving in his home town he must reassess his goals and options.

Potentially boring material emerges as a wonderful semi-comic parable thanks to a tight and funny script and swift, unpretentious direction. Using the road movie structure of I Went Down and familiar Irish motifs of emigration and teenage frustration (Clash of the Ash, Gold in the Streets, Snakes and Ladders), McPolin delivers a hugely disarming poke in the eye for the navel gazing coming-of-age yarn even though its rhythms and resolutions remain much the same as those which preceded it.

Scott (also seen in Cathal Black's Korea) is very entertaining in the role of the hapless innocent, blundering about like Stan Laurel with a look of blank incomprehension which eventually gives way to various primal teenage emotions. He is beautifully set against Quarton's broadly comic mentor-cum-father figure, and the film rests largely upon the interplay between the two personae and the two performances (just like I Went Down). But there is a wonderful lack of pretension about this, and even when it does descend into the melodramatics required of the genre, you tend to let it go without serious question because the ride has been fun up to then. The script assumes the logic of the classical drama and it unfolds just as you not only would expect, but demand that it should. This is no bad thing, and like the later How To Cheat In The Leaving Certificate, it is not ashamed to surrender vauge notions of changing the world to the demands of narrative.

It's unlikely to offer anything substantially new to filmgoers with an ounce of experience on the festival circuit, but the unusual setting may rejuvenate the scenario for foreign audiences willing to take on the bizarre mixture of accents. But this is entertainment in a long respected tradition of meaningful stories, and it is fresh and funny enough as an Irish film to provide suitable justification for viewing it.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1998.