The Most Fertile Man in Ireland (2000)

D: Dudi Appleton
S: Kris Marshall, Bronagh Gallagher

Sex comedy set in Northern Ireland featuring Kris Marshall as the titular character, the most fertile man in a country with declining sperm rates and a necessity for reproduction. It seems that both the Catholic and Protestant communities are afraid of being out-bred by the other side, so when it is discovered that Marshall seems to have the knack of making women pregnant on the first attempt, his services are in demand by both. Co-worker Bronagh Gallagher sets up a business on his behalf, and cannot keep up with the calls. The problem is that Marshall is hopelessly in love with the strange, quiet girl who works in the funeral home across the street (Kathy Kiera Clarke). He would give it all up just to be with her, if she would have him.

Jim Keeble's script is at its best when it is being silly. The film follows in the heels of recent Irish comedies such as About Adam, When Brendan Met Trudy, and Divorcing Jack in its sense of irreverence and its wilful abandonment of realism. It is probably closest to Divorcing Jack in that its playful shenanigans are set against a backdrop of sectarian tension. James Nesbitt has an amusing role as a protestant paramilitary who carries old newspaper clippings from the 1970s to intimidate people with. In fact he is clearly out of step with reality, neither intimidating nor particularly clued in to the political situation as it is now. His sectarian rhetoric seems like the sad ravings of a school bully who has grown up to find people do not fear him anymore because their lives have moved on. Most of the rest of the characters seem interested in the political divide only to the extent that their bedroom antics are watched over by either portraits of the Pope or the Queen.

There really isn't enough material here for a full feature though. The pace slows to a crawl during the straight romantic scenes. It is not just that we have seen all this before: we have seen it too many times before for it to hold even a modicum of interest without some kind of angle to sustain it. Perhaps it was hoped that the setting would provide the angle, and to a certain extent it does. There are some amusing moments along the way, such as when Marshall attends Unionist bonfire night celebrations (having had his first date with his lady love on St. Patrick's Day), but on the whole this aspect of the plot lacks interesting detail. The film's trump card is its premise. When this becomes merely the backdrop, the film is not as entertaining.

Dudi Appleton's direction is reasonable enough. She does her best to inject a pace and visual style which enhances the sense of farce. There are plenty of rapid cross-cuts, lots of off-kilter camera angles, and enough kinks in the shooting and editing to tell you you are not meant to take it very seriously. The problem is that this does not sit so well with the rest of the movie, and when our central character is torn by romantic longing, you tend not to really care on the level you need to for the film on the whole to work. The characters are not drawn with the necessary psychological and emotional depth, so they do not have an inner life which transcends the familiarity of the romantic sub-plot. The film therefore lacks tonal balance. It fails to attain the delicate equilibrium between screwball and romance which it strives for.

There are some effectively exaggerated comic supporting performances from Gallagher and Irish film and TV staple Pauline McLynn. There are also some suitably strange character vignettes in there, including an errant would-be crooner, a cheerfully sadistic traffic warden who grants exemptions only on Friday the 13th, and a stream of weirdoes who make calls to the dating agency for which Marshall works at the outset. Tara Lynne O'Neill is lots of fun as a man eating local girl who sets her sights on the shy Marshall only to be the first to learn of his unique talents. Marshall himself is quite sympathetic in the lead. He plays the character with a gormless innocence which holds the centre well. Clarke is unfortunately just as one-note but less likable as his (schematically) contrastingly sombre would-be paramour. Former punkette and latterly TV sex guru Toyah Wilcox has a small role as a doctor.

The Most Fertile Man in Ireland is a harmless film which might have seemed more remarkable even a few short years ago. But in the wake of more accomplished farces like About Adam and Divorcing Jack, it falls short of ever-increasing expectation. This is a good complaint, as they say, but it does leave the film itself dangling in limbo.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2001.