When Brendan Met Trudy (2001)

D: Kieron J. Walsh
S: Peter MacDonald, Flora Montgomery

A Dublin teacher who loves movies and has nothing else in his life meets a freespirited young girl whose anarchic energy changes his world in more ways than one. But is it all for the better? After all, she goes out at night all dressed in black and has unusual utensils in her kitchen drawers including bolt cutters and crowbars. Life may be boring, but sometimes excitement comes at a high cost, especially when your girlfriend is a professional thief whose idea of good craic is robbing warehouses on the docklands. Well, it makes a change from choir practice.

Like Shadow of the Vampire, When Brendan Met Trudy is a film designed to appeal to film buffs, which can be a tricky proposition. On one hand you run the risk of alienating those not in on the joke. On the other hand you're setting yourself up for an anorak's reaction as devotees begin sorting out the references and drawing inevitable comparisons between your film and those you cite or pay homage to. The film is jam-packed with such references, and makes them central to its style and structure. From the opening which apes Sunset Boulevard to the many references to A Bout de Souffle (and one hilarious poke at Alphaville), Kieron J. Walsh's film is canny to a fault about the wealth of cinema history which brings itself to bear on any film made at the outset of the twenty-first century. Walsh emulates, recreates, parodies, and otherwise incorporates the surface style of a broad range of movies. The script, written by Roddy Doyle, describes the scenes in the first place of course, and seems eager to ensure that all of these in-jokes are framed by a story about the temporary insanity of romantic love. The hope presumably is that this will allow less savvy viewers to understand that all of this wacky action can be understood as part of a surrealistic trip which reflects the general craziness and abandon of the couple's relationship. On the whole it works. Though one sometimes feels a bit worn down by the self-referentiality, it keeps up a good pace, has a reasonable quota of good gags, and boasts of solid comic performances from its leads.

IFTA award winner Peter MacDonald (Saltwater, I Went Down) is good as the teacher. He makes a sympathetic everyman/loser as always, but this time he adds physical mannerisms to his performance drawn from the various movies the character watches. He affects certain kinds of postures, gestures, and walks, and drops lines and vocal styles from Hollywood and French movies, all of which add to the fun. He even makes a fairly convincing stab at emulating Jean-Paul Belmondo in A Bout de Souffle in the film's latter stages (a performance which in itself was also self-referential about its basis in other movies). Flora Montgomery is also convincing as the wild young woman (the character isn't believable, but that's not really the point), though her accent is a bizarre mixture of oirish movie brogue and a genuine regional accent (the actor is a native of Northern Ireland). Her wide, bright eyes and precise, quick movements capture the character's restless energy. Though it is difficult to believe in her the way you initially respond to MacDonald, you accept the character within the frames of reference set by the movie (as another of its in-jokes: in this case a reference to the classic screwball comedies of the 1930s).

Essentially, When Brendan Met Trudy is intentionally empty and is designed to appeal to a broad audience. It does occasionally segue into serious material though, such as the ongoing refugee situation in contemporary Ireland, and it indulges in a little bit of bourgeois-bashing from time to time (mostly centred on Pauline McLynn and Don Wycherley as MacDonald's sister and brother-in-law). These moments are less effective because the film is generally so lightweight and unrealistic that you find them hard to accept. The film is always at its best when it is being eccentric. Its energy comes primarily from the dynamic between Montgomery and MacDonald, which is along standard lines (stiff boring guy reacts to crazy girl, learns about life, finds love), but is successful nonetheless. The in-jokes and stylistic references to other movies have their own life too, and Walsh does a nice job of making the film visually interesting (even if it is derivative by design). Watch out also for the Airplane-esque ersatz news reports which take place on TV sets in the background, including one depicting a nun running amok with a machine gun. The film ends with a series of false sign-offs derived from (guess what) well-known movies, followed by a series of 'what happened next' gags which invite you to leave the theatre with a smile.

When Brendan Met Trudy joins the ranks of recent Irish films which have begun to emerge from the shadow of Irish film history and embrace a universal sense of cinema. Its nearest equivalent is the recent About Adam, but it is different enough in style to have an identity of its own (such as it is). Added to Flick, How to Cheat in the Leaving Certificate, and deconstructive classics such as The Butcher Boy, it is quite an exciting time to be watching Irish films (dross like Waking Ned aside), not least of all because they are less obsessed with being Irish than ever before and simply are what they are. When Brendan Met Trudy has a good sense of both itself and cinema in general as a playground rather than an arena, which is most welcome. And how can you dislike a film which uses scenes from The Producers?

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2001.