Last Days in Dublin (2001)

D: Lance Daly
S: Grattan Smith, MC Muzzy

Lance Daly's no-budget feature benefits from an ironic sense of humour about itself which helps to smooth over the lack of niceties. The film tells the story of Monster (Grattan Smith), a young Dubliner who has decided to leave the city for warmer climes. His 'journey' is marked by a diary-style voice over which describes the difficulties he encounters in the style of an explorer's journal. The fact that he never gets outside the city confines is incidental, as his adventures on the mean streets of down and out contemporary Dublin involve encounters with 'natives', 'merchants', 'mysterious strangers', and 'sea captains' right out of any classic yarn. Ulysses it is not, but the intertextuality raises more than a few smiles, which are no harm at all under the circumstances.

The problems begin when the white-linen suit clad Monster is mugged by fashion-offended junkies and all of his money is stolen. His attempts to find alternative financing take him to a moneylender, which only lands him in even more trouble. Meanwhile periodic encounters with his elderly, ailing grandfather provide a sense of perspective, and the initially unwelcome friendship of a homeless man brings him into contact with a the underbelly of Irish society and some of its denizens. All the while the series of bizarre incidents which make up his journey around the city become the subject of quasi-parodic reflection in the voice over.

The film is mostly shot in grainy black and white, with occasional, effective colour inserts in which Monster imagines himself in exotic locales including Paris, New York, and Egypt. The rest of the film is a street-level portrait of the Irish capital complete with muggers, bums, and loan sharks, shot mostly hand-held and with a gritty sense of style. It doesn't take itself particularly seriously, but there is some value in its vision of the city as a cornucopia of cheerful corruption and iniquity at once more realistic and more fantastical than that envisioned in the Roddy Doyle adaptations.

This kind of picaresque adventure rises or falls on the strength of its vignettes. Luckily, again partly due to the witty counterpoint provided by the voice over but also because of the casting, the little incidents which make up the larger whole are entertaining enough. Senator David Norris kicks things off in a surprising turn as an abusive landlord, followed not long later by outspoken political commentator Nell McCafferty as a matriarchal moneylender commanding an army of tracksuit-wearing thugs who pursue Monster throughout most of the movie. The most prominent of the supporting characters is the homeless nutter who attaches himself to our hero and vows to join him in his quest. Played with grotesque glee by 'MC Muzzy' (who also provides some of the soundtrack music), this character allows the movie to generate some polemical and satirical force. Sly asides allow Daly to comment gently on homelessness and economic deprivation without getting lost in it.

Scenes range from conventional to surreal, and though most of them are predictable enough, the film moves quickly through them. One silly but hilarious moment involves Monster and his friends participating in a scam to con Americans out of their cash on a 'Leprechaun hunt' with obvious but not unfunny results. Another pits Monster's naivete against the audience's warranted expectations as he answers a personal ad for a 'cabin boy', and there is an amusing bit of business involving a lottery scratchcard which comes to a pleasing climax.

The film gets some mileage from its visual style: the sense of happy-go-lucky amateurism makes clear what to expect from its opening titles (drawn on T-shirts worn by extras on the street). Though never polished, the film is stylistically consistent and never gets dull, so though it is not breathtakingly original or handsomely rendered, it provides as much entertainment and satisfaction as any Irish feature of the past few years. Its peers are not The General and The Butcher Boy, mind, but it can be counted alongside How to Cheat in the Leaving Certificate and The Book that Wrote Itself as an example of a painlessly nonprofessional Irish cinema which evinces the continuing existence of a filmmaking community. This is always preferable to a wasteland of aesthetic and social contemplation of the empty canvas of the great Irish cinema that never was. It is not going to be to everyone's taste, but for those of a mind to enjoy it, it is not without charms.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2003.